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GIFT OF 
JOHN CRAIG 



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SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 




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5iXTY YEARS OI 
TJ IE THEATER 



OIL) curncs memories 



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»SIXTY YEARS OF 



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THE THEATER., 



AN 

OLD CRITIC'S MEMORIES 



Bt 
JOHN RANKEN TOWSE 

Forty-tkr«» Ttcn Dramatie Critic of "Ttu lf«v) York 

Ev»iti»g PotV 



ILLUSTRATED 







'-.i. 



FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY 

NEW YOEK AND LONDON 
, 1916 






0^ 




CorTRiOHT, 1913, 1914, 1916, Bt 
JOHN RANKEN TOWSE 

CoPTBioHT, 1916, Bt 

FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY 

[PfinUd in th§ United States of America] 

Copyright Under the Articles of the Copyright Conrentioa of the 
Pan-American Republics and the United States, 

August 11, 1910 

Published, September, 1916 



TO MY WIFE 
Oldett and Dearest of Comrades 



PREFACE 

The writer of these reminiscences is fully con- 
scious of their disorderly, discursive and imper- 
fect form. When he began to jot them down for 
serial publication in The Evening Postj he did not 
foresee the possibility of their ultimate collection 
in a single volume, or he would have arranged them 
differently, with greater respect for convenient 
grouping and chronological sequence. This may 
help to explain, if not to excuse, many obvious 
shortcomings. These pages make no pretense of 
being a complete historical record even of the 
period with which they deal. If they have any 
value it is because they record the honest impres- 
sions and convictions of one who has been a life- 
long lover and student of the theater — which ought 
to be one of the most beneficial, as it is certainly 
one of the most potent agencies at the disposal of 
civilization — and who has enjoyed exceptional 
facilities for seeing it at its best and worst, and 
noting its influences for good or evil. He can only 
hope that he has not altogether abused them. Many 
readers, doubtless, will disagree with some of his 
theories, conclusions, and critical estimates, and 
he is not silly enough to imagine that his judg- 
ments are infallible, but these, such as they are, 
are based upon experience and comparison, not 
upon personal prejudice or predilection. Play- 
goers of an older generation, who remember 

. 



PREFACE 

Macready, Forrest, the Keans, the Booths, Daven- 
port and their contemporaries, will readily assent 
to the degeneracy of the modem theater in all 
matters of sheer artistry and histrionism. It is 
only in scenic accessories, and in the lighter and 
less permanent varieties of drama that it has made 
any notable advance. Some attempt has been made 
herein to point out some of the main causes of 
this generally acknowledged decadence, and to 
indicate the most hopeful measures for its arrest. 
Much of the ground traversed in this book has 
been abundantly trodden, but the author ventures 
to hope that it may acquire a certain freshness of 
aspect, when regarded from independent, and spe- 
cially selected points of view. He has tried to 
avoid all the flattest and least interesting spots. 
If he has skipped some worthy of notice, through 
carelessness or incapacity, he is heartily sorry. It 
is too late now to make amends. With regard to 
living actors and actresses, to whom he has not 
referred, it may be pointed out that he has not 
professed to discuss any who were not prominent 
in the public eye at the opening of this century. It 
only remains for him to acknowledge, very grate- 
fully, the enrichment of the text by the courteous 
aid in photographic material extended by Messrs. 
Sarony, Mora, and the White Studio, Keen^s Chop 
House, of New York; Mr. F. A. King, Mr. Guy 
Nichols and Mr. Daniel Frohman. 

J. Banken Towse. 



CONTENTS 

GHAPTBB PAGI 

I. The First Pantomime and Some Famous 

British Stock Companies 1 

II. Charles Kean, J. B. Bnckstone, and the 

Haymarket Company 16 

III. Sadler's Wells, Samuel Phelps and Some 

of His Contemporaries 33 

lY. More of Samuel Phelps in Shakespearean 

and Other Impersonations 46 

V. Benjamin Webster, Charles Fechter, and 

Others 62 

VI. The Stage in New York in 1870 . . . . 80 

VII. Wallack's in the Days of John Gilbert . . 91 

VIII. More Plays at Wallack's 105 

IX. Daly's Stock Company in the Seventies. . 121 

X. Adelaide Neilson and the Union Square 

Stock Company 134 

XI. The Union Square Theater, Clara Morris 

and Tommaso Salvini 146 

XII. Tommaso Salvini as Conrad, as Niger, as 

Saul, and as Lear 166 

XIII. Dealing Especially with Edwin Booth . . 180 

xi 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

XIV. Charlotte Cushman, Helena Modjeska, 

and Bernhardt 196 

XV. Fanny Janauschek, Who Ended in Tribu- 
lations, and Mary Anderson, Who 
Never Knew Anything But Popular 
Adoration 208 

XVI. Lawrence Barrett, John McCullough, 
Edgar L. Davenport, Joseph Jefferson, 
and Others 222 

XVII. Irving and Terry 235 

XVIII. Tommaso Salvini and Lester Wallack . . 248 

XIX. Modjeska and Ristori 265 

XX. Henry Irving and Ellen Terry . . . . 286 

XXI. Richard Mansfield 318 

XXII. Augustin Daly's Company 341 

XXIII. More About Augustin Daly's Company — 

The Madison Square Company . . . . 358 

XXIV. The Lyceum Theater Company . . . . 377 

XXV. Julia Marlowe and E. H. Sothem . . . . 390 

XXVI. Robert Mantell, Mrs. Fiske, Rose Coghlan, 

and Others 404 

XXVII. The Kendals, Henrietta Crosman, and 

Margaret Anglin 422 

XXVIII. Herbert Beerbohm Tree 438 

XXIX. Johnston Forbes-Robertson, E. S. Wil- 

lard, John Hare, and Others . . 448 

xu 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

' Edwin Booth (Portrait) Frontispiece 

FAOINO PAGE 

'Henry Compton (Portrait) " 

•E. A. Sothem as "Lord Dundreary" . . . . > 28 

•'William Chippendale (Portrait) .. .., 

'Sadler's Wells Theater 40 

•Samuel Phelps as "Hamlet** 

* Miss Glyn as "The Queen" Y 48 

" Samuel Phelps as "Macbeth" . . . . . 



'Samuel Phelps as "Cardinal Wolsey" 
'Samuel Phelps as "Macsycophant" . , 
/Samuel Phelps (Portrait) 



56 



'Benjamin Webster (Portrait) 68 

'Charles Fechter as "Edgar of Ravenswood" 

Charles Fechter as "Robert Macaire" . . ^ 76 

Charles Fechter as "Hamlet" 

Dion Boucicault in "The Shaughraun" 

Madame Ponisi in "The Shaughraun". . ..^ 96 

John Gilbert as "Sir Peter Teazle" . . . 

Lester Wallack as "Charles Marlow" 

Lester Wallack as "Benedick" )- 116 

' Lester Wallack as "John Garth" . . . 

Charles Fisher as "Sir Peter Teazle". . . 

Fanny Davenport (Portrait) }- 128 

•Edgar L. Davenport (Portrait) 

"Adelaide Neilson as "Viola" 

•Adelaide NeUson as "Juliet" 1- 136 

• Sara Jewett as "Lady Teazle" 

• • • 

xiu 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



^McKee Rankin as '' Jacques/' in ^'The Two 
Orphans" • . • 

^Kate Claxton as ''Louise," in "The Two 
Orphans" 

' Charles R. Thome, Jr., as "De Vaudray," 
in "The Two Orphans" 

" Clara Morris (An early portrait) . . . . 

"Clara Morris as "Camille" 

^ Clara Morris as ''Miss Multon" 



TAOIHa PAGS 



144 



• • • • 



156 



/ Tommaso Salvini as "Ingomar" 160 

^Edwin Booth as "lago^' 

'Edwin Booth as "Hamlet" \ 192 

'Edwin Booth as "Cardinal Richelieu" 



'Sarah Bernhardt as "Camille" 
^ Sarah Bernhardt as "Hamlet" 



200 



'Helena Modjeska as "Portia" 
'Helena Modjeska as "Ophelia" . 
"Helena Modjeska as "Rosalind" 



204 



• • • • 



^Mary Anderson (Portrait) . . 
'Mary Anderson as "Galatea" 
'Fanny Janauschek (Portrait) 



• • • • 



216 



• J 



^Lawrence Barrett as "Hamlet" 

'Lawrence Barrett in "Francesca da Rimini" 
'John McCullough as "Virginius" . . . . , 



224 



Joseph Jefferson as "Rip Van Winkle" . .1 oog 

'Edgar L. Davenport as "Brutus" . . . . J 



Ellen Terry as "Lady Macbeth" 
Henry Irving as "Hamlet" . . 



'Henry Irving as "Shylock" 
4 Ellen Terry as "Portia". . 



} 
} 



240 



244 



xiv 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



Lester Wallack (Portrait) 



FACINQ PAOI 

. .. 260 



' Madame Ristori as '^arie Antoinette" 
'^Madame Ristori as ''Mary Stuart" 

*Henry Irving as ''Cardinal Wolsey** . . 
^EUen Terry as "Queen Katharine" . . 

'Richard Mansfield as "Beau Brummell" 
"^Richard Mansfield as "Baron Chevrial" 
^Richard Mansfield as "Richard III.".. 






284 



304 



336 



•' Augustin Daly's Stock Company 344 

'Otis Skinner, Virginia Dreher, Ada Rehan, 

Mrs. Gilbert, in "A Night Off" 348 

"Ada Rehan as "Rosalind" 

•'John Drew as "Orlando" y 352 

^ James Lewis as "Touchstone" 



'Jesae Millward (Portrait) . . 
•Effie Ellaler (Portrait) . . . . 
' W. J. Lemoyne (Portrait) . . 
" Eben Plympton as "Orlando" 



368 



^James K. Hackett in "The Prisoner of 

Zenda" 

"Mary Mannering (Portrait) 

^ Henry MiUer in "Heartsease" 

"Georgia Cayvan (Portrait) 

'Blanche Whiff en in "Old Heads and Young 

Hearts" 

•Herhert Kelcey in "Old Heads and Young 

Hearts" 

Bessie Tyree, Cteorgia Cayvan, Katharine^ 

Florence, in "The Amazons" 
'E. H. Sothem, W. J. Lemoyne, in "The 
Highest Bidder'* 



380 



384 



388 



XV 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

FACIKQ 1 



•^ Julia Marlowe as "Viola" 
vE. H. Sothern as "Villon" 



f • • • • • • 



^E. H. Soihem and Julia Marlowe in "Romeo 
and Juliet" 



' Robert Mantell as "King John" 



^Minnie Maddem Fiske (Portrait) . . . . 1 

•'Rose Coghlan (Portrait) ^ 

•^Charles Coghlan as "Orlando" . . . . 



I 



''Mr. and Mrs. Kendall in "A Scrap of^ 

Paper" ^ 

-Wilson Barrett as "The Silver King". . ... 

^Herbert Beerbohm Tree as "Hamlet". . . . 1 
^Herbert Beerbohm Tree as "Shylock". . . . / 

"John Hare (Portrait) 

^E. S. WiUard in "The Middleman" . . . . 
^ Johnston Forbes-Robertson as "Hamlet" . . . 



XVI 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE 
THEATER 



THE FIRST PANTOMIME AND SOME FAMOUS 
BRITISH STOCK COMPANIES 

More than sixty years have passed since I first 
entered the portals of a theater. Of the identity 
of the house I am not certain. I think it was the 
old Adelphi in London — ^but the date was April, 
1853, the occasion was a birthday, and the play 
was ** Jack the Giant Killer** with Lydia Thomp- 
son, yet in her teens, as the hero. She died long 
ago an old woman in her eighth decade, unknown 
to the rising generation, but in her youth she was 
a vision of loveliness yet cherished in the memories 
of elderly playgoers, and she was a public favorite 
on both sides of the Atlantic for very many sea- 
sons. Without having any pretensions to genius 
or to substantial fame, she is worthy of remem- 
brance as a pillar in that institution of English 
burlesque which flourished mightily in mid- Vic- 
torian days, fell gradually through various de- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

grees of disrepute into utter degradation, but, 
nevertheless, furnished the legitimate stage with 
some of the cleverest comedians of modem times. 
No woman, or man either for that matter, ever 
danced the sailor's hornpipe as she did in her 
heyday, with such an exquisite combination of 
vigor, agility, and grace. The spirit, speed, and 
airy lightness of her performance were incom- 
parable. 

This juvenile impression would scarcely have 
been worthy of record here if the essential truth 
of it had not been confirmed amply by later ex- 
perience and riper judgments, and if it had not 
inspired in the juvenile beholder a passion for 
the theater which was to prove a dominant in- 
fluence throughout his future life. Moreover, the 
fair Lydia and her associate acrobatic mimes 
were typical products of the period in which they 
throve, when the old order of the stage, dignified 
by the survival of the literary drama, and such 
players as the Kembles, Macready, and Edmund 
Kean, was slowly but surely passing away, to be 
replaced by a dismal and prolonged era of senti- 
mental or violent melodrama, pseudo-romance, 
domestic comedy equally destitute of truth and 
reason, knock-about farce, and spectacular frivol- 
ity. Of this mixture burlesque, in its best estate, 
was by no means the most contemptible element. 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Before it came to disregard completely its proper 
fnnctions it used to provide some effective satire 
for which there was abundant food in all direc- 
tions. 

After that first performance of **Jack the 
Giant Killer," I became a more or less constant 
frequenter of the London playhouses, passing 
first, under guardianship, through a course of 
I>antomimes — ^which were almost always preceded 
by a play of some kind — and then, when endowed 
with a larger measure of personal liberty, paying 
delightful visits, many of which were all the 
sweeter for being surreptitious, to various 
"pits,'* especially those of Old Drury, the Hay- 
market, the Adelphi, the Princess's, and the 
Olympic. Within these walls, during the fifties 
and the sixties, while I was at school and college, 
I made my first acquaintance with the older 
dassic' drama, both tragic and comic, and saw 
prominent representatives of the *^old school'' — 
the school of stock companies, hard work, and 
comparatively small pay — in some of their most 
successful parts, and first learned the distinction 
between a mere performance and a characteriza- 
tion. Most of these old actors were in their 
prime in the first quarter of the nineteenth cen- 
tury and observed the traditions of the eighteenth. 
Few of them had genius, but all had served a 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

long apprenticeship and knew their trade thor- 
oughly, being able to acquit themselves creditably, 
if not with distinction, in any line of dramatic 
business. They varied, of course, in intellectual 
and technical capacity, as do the actors of to- 
day. Some of them, indisputably, were too pre- 
cise, stiff, and mechanical in action, adhered too 
rigidly to arbitrary methods, and used conven- 
tional and unsatisfying symbols, but nearly all 
displayed a clear intelligence, a ready control of 
eloquent and appropriate gesture, and the faculty 
of crisp, fluent, melodious speech. In a word, 
they were masters of those accomplishments es- 
sential to the proper exercise of their profession, 
in which most of our modern actors are con- 
spicuously deficient. Among them, as in the 
contemporary theater, there were performers 
who had mistaken their calling, caricatures of 
their order, whose absurd affectations made them 
ridiculous and doubtless suggested the inunortal 
Crummies family to Charles Dickens. Several of 
them lingered before the footlights up to a very 
recent date, and were legitimate objects for the 
satirical shafts of the younger generation of 
critics, who accepted them as fair exemplars of 
that ''old school" of which, owing to the happy 
accident of youth, they themselves could have no 
personal experience. 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

It is because I have had that experience, be- 
cause I have been not only a regular theatergoer, 
but a theatrical devotee and observer, not to say 
a student, for sixty years (nearly twenty years 
in England and more than forty in this country), 
that I have been moved to jot down these random 
recollections, with the convictions that have 
grown out of them; with no notion of writing 
either a compendious history or a philosophic 
treatise. To touch even lightly upon all the 
salient features of six decades of theatrical hap- 
penings would require far more time and space 
than I have at command. To add to insignificant 
details the dishonest flatteries and the meaning- 
less verbiage of which the vast bulk of modem 
theatrical writing is largely compounded would 
be almost criminal. I shall speak solely of mat- 
ters coming under my personal observation, en- 
deavoring to avoid, as far as possible, the beaten 
track, in the hope of awakening fresh interest in 
a somewhat hackneyed subject by a frank and 
independent treatment of it. 

And this, perhaps, is a convenient point for the 
statement of one definite conclusion that has been 
forced upon me, and that is that during the last 
fifty years the art of acting upon the English- 
speaking stage has steadily declined; that, judg- 
ing by the standards which prevailed at the be- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ginning of that period^ there is not npon the 
American stage to-day a single player, male or 
female, of the first rank, and that this result is 
due chiefly to the establishment of the com- 
mercial star and circuit system by speculative 
managers, possessed of considerable executive 
ability, but, as a rule, devoid of artistic knowl- 
edge, instincts, or ambition ; partly to the creation 
of railroads, which have made the circuit system 
feasible, and partly to the enormous improve- 
ments in mechanical and lighting devices, which 
have increased the possibilities of spectacle and 
thus enabled managers to attract the remu- 
nerative crowd, with whom an appeal to the eye 
is so much more potent than an appeal to the 
understanding or good taste. It is a popular 
dogma that old men are apt to underestimate and 
decry the present in comparing it with the past 
— to find new savors insipid and inferior — ^but 
I do not believe that I can be justly included in 
that category. My interest in the theater is still 
keen, in spite of frequent weariness and vexation 
of spirit, and my belief in its infinite potentiali- 
ties, if wisely conducted as an agent of the higher 
civilization, is as profound and unshaken as 
ever. It is the one human institution, of which 
all the arts are the handmaids, whose peculiar 
privilege it is to illustrate and enforce the sound- 

6 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

est principles of art, morality, and social law, 
under the seductive guise of entertainment. It 
must fascinate or amuse, or be powerless for 
good. If it does nothing but amuse, it is worth- 
less and probably mischievous. Horribly mis- 
managed and abused for many years, it has fallen 
into depths of degradation, lower and more 
poisonous, if less frankly coarse, than those 
reached by the comedy of the Restoration. But 
it is a long lane that has no turning. Already 
there are signs, daily growing stronger, of com- 
ing radical changes in existing conditions, if not 
of a general reformation. Among these are the 
multiplying perplexities, and difficulties, and 
wavering policies of the syndicates, whose ex- 
pensive and inferior shows are finding successful 
rivals in the cheaper and more honest diversion 
of vaudeville and the ''movies"; the organiza- 
tion of stock companies in this country and in 
England; the entrance of new and capable 
writers, male and female, into the dramatic field, 
and the appearance in England of a new group 
of young and promising actors. All these phe- 
nomena are encouraging, and sometimes I in- 
dulge in the sanguine dream that I may yet, at 
the end of life, witness something like a revival 
of what was best in the old dispensation whose 
dying throes I watched in my adolescence. 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

But opportunities for reflections and forecasts 
will present themselves later. The immediate 
business is to recover the thread of juvenile 
reminiscences. The earliest of these are con- 
nected either with the pantomimes, of which a 
great variety was produced every Christmas, 
with extravaganzas or other ephemeral pieces, 
which would afford small excuse for comment, 
even if the memory of them were clear, or a 
boy's opinion valuable. But on the British panto- 
mime in general of fifty years ago, as an institu- 
tion which flourished annually, not only in nearly 
all the regular London theaters, but in scores of 
the larger provincial houses, a few lines may not 
be uninteresting. Professedly a festival for 
children, attendance upon it — as in later days 
upon the circus — ^became a habit of adults who 
sought in it from year to year a renewal of their 
own childish delights. I found pleasure in it for 
nearly twenty years, and have often wondered 
why a form of entertainment so commercially 
profitable — as George L. Fox proved it to be — 
never took permanent root in New York. Like 
burlesque, pantomime seems to be dying out in 
England — although it still prospers exceedingly at 
Drury Lane and elsewhere — ^probably because the 
quality of it has deteriorated. At the time of 
which I am speaking, and up to 1870, it presented 

8 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

attractions of a very varied and, in their way, 
excellent kind. Actors of good capacity, singers, 
dancers, and gymnasts were employed in the first 
part, in which one of the old nursery fairy tales, 
or an amalgamation of two or three of them, was 
presented in a spirit of grotesque humor, with 
an occasional coloring of romance. 

The dialogue generally written in rhymed verse, 
seasoned with puns and packed with topical and 
political allusions, often extremely felicitous, was 
furnished by practical pen-men, and was incom- 
parably superior to the miserable gibberish which 
accompanies the jingles of modern musical 
comedy. For many years the Drury Lane pro- 
logues were composed by E. L. Blanchard, who 
had a vein of wit somewhat akin to that of W. 
S. Gilbert. Tom Taylor, long the dramatic critic 
of the London Times, and one of the most un- 
trustworthy judges of histrionic merit who ever 
occupied so influential a position; F. S. Burnand 
and Mark Lemon, the well-known editors of 
Punch; H. J. Byron, Harry Leigh, the author of 
that extraordinary comic song, ''The Twins,'' 
which is virtually unknown to this generation; 
James Albery, the playwright, and many other 
writers of similar caliber were among the men 
who displayed their wit in these pantomime in- 
troductions. Among the artists who provided 

9 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

the scenery were sucli masters of color and de- 
sign as Beverley, Telbin, and Clarkson Stansfield, 
and some of their creations were marvels of 
imaginative beanty. 

After the prologue, which constituted the main 
part of the show, lasting, perhaps, for a couple 
of hours, came the harlequinade, rich in riotous 
fun and ingenious mechanical surprizes. The 
clowning of such buffoons as old Tom Matthews 
and Charles Lauri was not unworthy of com- 
parison with that of their famous predecessor, 
Grimaldi himself, and was greeted with enthusias- 
tic roars of approbation. These pantomimes were, 
and still are, always produced for the first time on 
Boxing Night — the night after Christmas — ^and 
it was no child's play to fight one's way into the 
pit at Drury Lane on such an occasion. A long 
covered passageway then led to the ticket office — 
as it probably does now — which stood behind two 
mighty doors which opened inward. These were 
kept closed until half an hour before the begin- 
ning of the performance, and all who wished to 
get into the front seats — among the very best in 
the house — ^had to secure a place in front of them 
late in the afternoon or very early in the evening 
and hold his own in a crowd which grew more 
dense with every succeeding minute. On one 
well-remembered Boxing Night, somewhere in 

10 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

the middle sixties (I have now no means of 
verifying the exact date), I had gained and main- 
tained a position about twenty feet from the 
closed barriers. With her back against them, 
facing the mob, stood a resolute woman, who, 
when the doors were opened, naturally was 
swept from her feet and fell before the rush, the 
leaders of which tumbled on top of her. Over 
their prostrate bodies poured the crowd in solid 
phalanx, the front ranks impelled by irresistible 
pressure from behind. I was carried inward on 
the flood, never feeling my feet, fearing that my 
ribs would collapse, but all unconscious of the , 
unfortunates beneath me. Getting inside the 
theater I hurdled over the benches to the front 
row, where I recovered my breath, and did not 
know until the next morning that of the persons 
who had been trampled upon several were killed 
and others seriously injured. I saw other pan- 
tomimes from the pit after that, but not on a 
Boxing Night. 

Whether pantomime of the purely British type 
would take the fancy of the American public may 
well be doubted, but it is not easy to think of 
any reason why a modification of it along Ameri- 
can lines should not prove a profitable enterprise. 
Harmless and effective theatrical entertainment 
for the little ones is among the crying needs of 

n 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

our modem civilization. The manager supplying 
it would reap vast profit. 

The fresh enthusiasm of youth is utterly sub- 
versive of sound judgment, and I shall not pre- 
tend to speak authoritatively concerning per- 
formances which I saw before my twentieth year. 
That is not a judicious age, but by that time I 
had served a pretty long apprenticeship in 
theatergoing and had acquired some small power 
of discrimination. AJready theatrical conditions 
were changing. Only four or five of the old 
stock organizations in London survived. Chief 
among them was the company at the Haymarket 
Theater, imder J. B. Buckstone, the recognized 
home of the higher comedy for many years; the 
Adelphi, largely devoted to melodrama under the 
management of Benjamin Webster, and Sadler's 
"Wells, where the mantle of the illustrious Samuel 
Phelps — of whom more hereafter — ^had descended 
to Miss Marriott and others. 

Of lesser note were the companies headed by 
Sarah Lane at the huge Victoria Theater, in Hox- 
ton — ^where fried fish was served in the boxes as 
a relish to dramatic art — and the Surrey Theater, 
under the direction of Creswick and Shepherd. 
These two were reckoned among the transpontine 
houses, and catered to enormous audiences of 
the poorest kind drawn from the working-classes, 

12 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

small tradesfolk, mechanics, costers, and others. 
The entertainments in them, naturally, were as 
a rule of a popular kind, consisting of spectacles, 
screaming farce, sentimental domestic plays, and 
highly colored melodramas, but the actors, espe- 
dally the low comedians, were thoroughly capable, 
and Shakespearean tragedies and comedies and 
other standard pieces were not infrequently the 
principal dishes in a theatrical menu of great 
variety and abundance. In those days it was 
not uncommon to find a tragedy, a comedy and 
a couple of farces upon the programme, and 
the spectators sat with unflagging satisfaction 
through them all. And the representations, if sel- 
dom brilliant, were as seldom slovenly or incom- 
plete. Actors had to work for their living then, 
many of them appearing in three or four widely 
contrasted parts in a single evening. Sometimes 
the east was headed by a visiting player of the 
first rank — the beginning of the star system 
which has since been so prodigiously and mis- 
chievously developed — who was generally assured 
of satisfactory support. Unless I am mistaken, 
Macready himself acted at the Surrey; Phelps 
certainly did. Mrs. Lane and Messrs. Shepherd 
and Creswick were all sound interpreters of 
Shakespearean character. 
I have not included the company which for 

13 



1 

SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

several years supported Charles Kean at the 
Princess's Theater among the regular stock com- 
panies, because he organized it for his own spe- 
cial purpose, and added to it or subtracted from 
it as occasion required. But nevertheless it was 
the stock system which produced the accom- 
plished players who helped to make his manage- 
ment at that house so memorable. This was the 
case also at other prominent West End theaters, 
where eminent performers were supported by 
scratch companies engaged for a season or a run. 
All the best subordinate performers owed their 
capacity to their long training in the ** stock," 
either in London or in the old established 
provincial theaters. The day was yet to come 
when the public should be asked to welcome the 
representation of ancient or modem master- 
pieces — productions of the latter kind, unfor- 
tunately, are few and far between — ^by a star and 
a bundle of sticks. Now, alas, the star himself — 
or herself — shines only with a fictitious glitter, 
the reflection of flaming and mendacious adver- 
tisement. Most of our contemporary theatrical 
valuations are ridiculously extravagant, and the 
stage itself, perhaps, is suffering quite as much 
from the false glamor with which the box-office 
agents and the daily press have conspired to in- 
vest it as from any other particular condition. 

14 



SEKTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

It is the fashion to describe our second or third 
rate mnmmers in terms which would be flattering 
to a Siddons or a Garrick and to record their 
petty sayings and doings as if these were actu- 
ally matters of public importance and inter- 
est How many of the names of existing stage 
Imninaries which now confront us on the street 
posters and in the newspapers will be remem- 
bered in the next generation t The question is 
easily answered. 



15 



n 



CHARLES KEAN, J. B. BUCKSTONE, AND THE 

HAYMARKET COMPANY 

CiBCTJMSTANCES prevented me from seeing 
Charles Kean upon the stage, except in early 
childhood, but I encountered him frequently in 
public places during his declining years, and he 
was so constantly the subject of discussion in the 
contemporary press and among my personal 
acquaintance that I feel justified in framing an 
estimate of him founded on second-hand but 
strongly corroborated information. He was the 
subject of fervent adulation and savage attack, 
but did not deserve either. Of his father's erratic 
but brilliant genius he inherited no spark. In 
stature and carriage he was insignificant; his 
visage lacked distinction, though he had good eyes 
and forehead; his voice was deficient in power 
and range and his utterance was faulty. He 
turned his ns and ms into ^s and &s. As Hamlet 
he said, in the play scene, ** *Tis a Vedetiad 
story — His dabe is Godzago — He poisod hib in 
the garded,*' and so forth. But he was an ener- 
getic, capable, ambitious man, with scholarly and 

16 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

archeological tastes, artistic and theatrical in- 
stincts, and a plentiful supply of self-reliance. 

His wife, Ellen Tree, an actress of uncommon 
ability, if not of positive genius, and in her 
prime, before she grew stout and unwieldy, a 
woman of notable beauty and dignified charm, 
was his ** better half in more senses than one. 
They were a devoted couple, and their long 
wedded life, untouched by scandal, was an ex- 
ample of conjugal happiness and respectability 
not too common in the profession. She humored 
lus vanity, which was colossal, and held him in 
complete but unconscious subjection. She stooped 
to conquer. No adulation was too gross for 
Kean's self-esteem. He writhed beneath the lash 
of criticism. The most glowing praise gave him 
no satisfaction if qualified ever so craftily with 
exceptions. He remonstrated, almost tearfully, 
with friendly critics who ventured to suggest that 
his performances, even in minor respects, might 
possibly be susceptible of improvement. It is 
recorded of him that he called one of them aside, 
and read aloud a rhapsodical eulogy of himself 
that had been printed in some little Grub Street 
pnblication, adding, **That, sir, is what I call 
honest criticism.'' 

Some of the critical shafts discharged at him 
carried a very sharp sting. When he played 

17 



SIXTY YEAaS OF THE THEATER 

King John at the Princess's — ^a character in 
which Macready had achieved one of his greatest 
triumphs — ^he engaged Phelps to support him in 
the part of Hubert. Conmienting in Punch upon 
the representation, Douglas Jerrold remarked 
that Mr. Phelps had, in the most generous man- 
ner, publicly presented Mr. Kean, upon his own 
stage, with a complete extinguisher. The fact is 
that few authoritative critics of his day ever re- 
garded Charles Kean as a great actor, although 
they praised his painstaking intelligence and his 
zeal and liberality as a producer. No great charac- 
ter, either in tragedy or comedy, has been associ- 
ated with his name. The Lear and Abel Drugger 
of Garrick, the Shylock of Edmund Kean, the Mac- 
beth of Macready, the Sir Peter Teazle of Chip- 
pendale, the Sir Pertinax McSycophant (in **The 
Man of the World'') of Phelps, the Sir GUes 
Overreach, of E. L. Davenport, and the Hamlet 
of Edwin Booth — the list might be extended al- 
most indefinitely — are constantly quoted as his- 
trionic masterpieces, but no single creation of 
Charles Kean was preeminent. His Hamlet, the 
most successful of his Shakespearean interpreta- 
tions, was a fairly able and elaborately finished 
bit of work, but owed much of its popularity to 
the excellence of his support and the richness of 
his pictorial setting. It was in romantic melo- 

18 



SEKTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

drama, such as ** Louis XI'' and **The Corsioan 
Brothers,'' that his talents were displayed to 
the best advantage. 

The conspicuous position which he long oc- 
cupied in the English dramatic world may be 
easily explained. He appeared on the scene in 
a period of tragic decline. Macready, who was 
proud of his art, but who despised his profession, 
had acquired a competence and was about to seek 
in seclusion relief from the pangs of envy and 
the innumerable frets to which his unhappy dis- 
position perpetually exposed him; the Kemble 
group was disappearing; Phelps, devoted to his 
great work in Islington, was yet virtually un- 
known, except in secondary characters, to the 
West End of London, and thus he had no rival 
to contend with him in the Shakespearean field. 
Moreover, he had the prestige of his father's 
name, had been educated at Eton, where he 
formed social connections which were invaluable 
to him afterward, and he had money. He was, 
as it were, bom to the purple, and was generally 
regarded as the providential champion who was 
to revive the fading glories of the classic stage. 
And it may be admitted freely that he made good 
use of his opportunities. 

Though a second-rate performer himself — ^he 
had, it may be noted, served but a brief apprentice- 

19 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ship in the stock companies — ^he was an indus- 
trious student of the traditions and mechanism 
of the theater, and had an almost pedantic rever- 
ence for the verities of architecture, costume, and 
all archeological details. He strongly rebuked 
an actor who was playing the porter in ** Mac- 
beth'* for failing to direct the attention of the 
audience to the keys which he was carrying, 
which were copies from a rare antique pattern. 
A master of all traditional poses and points, he 
knew how this or that distinguished performer 
had worn his bonnet, drawn a glove on or oflF, or 
fingered the hilt of his sword. His care in such 
matters was meticulous, and in all his work there 
was far more evidence of calculation than of in- 
spiration. He was a stickler also for the text — 
although he did not hesitate to cut it — and never 
considered cost in preparing a spectacle. His 
Shakespearean pageants excelled the most notable 
productions of Macready, in magnificence, in 
accuracy, and often in the capacity of his sup- 
porting casts. He was frequently outplayed by his 
subordinates, though his egotism preserved him 
from all consciousness of the fact. He is entitled 
to every credit for keeping the literary and poetic 
drama before the public, and for his dignified and 
picturesque treatment of it, but it is a question 
whether in the long run he did not do the stage 

20 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

more harm than good. His demonstration as an 
actor-manager of the eflScacy of spectacle with 
the crowd as a substitute for fine acting was a 
lesson that was not lost upon his immediate suc- 
cessors and was productive of infinite mischief. 
Scenery was developed at the cost of histrionism, 
until, in the end, commercial managers found it 
profitable to ignore acting altogether in such 
glittering trash as **Babil and Bijou" or **The 
Black Crook. '^ 

The Haymarket Theater was the recognized 
home of polite comedy in London for more than 
a generation, under the management of John 
Baldwin Buckstone. Its reputation was well main- 
taroed throughout the sixties, although the bril- 
liancy of its representations had been somewhat 
diminished by the death or desertion of able per- 
formers. It was to London what Wallack's, in 
its palmy days, was to New York. There the 
comioisseur could depend upon seeing an old com- 
edy — if one happened to be on the programme — 
played in the appropriate manner, with the formal 
polished style to match the artificial speech, with 
robust but unforced humor and smooth, unhesi- 
tating action. He could be certain also of hear- 
ing good dialogue crisply delivered with due at- 
tention to rhythm and emphasis. The ridiculous 
notion that plays of a bygone period should be 

21 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

recast and presented in modem fashion to a 
form to modem habits and ideas had not tb 
been broached. It originated probably with co 
mercial managers, who, being at their wit's e 
for new plays, dreamed of profits to be made 
a resort to the famous older pieces, but reali2 
the impossibility of collecting, at short notice, 
company of players capable of presenting tin 
properly or effectively, without a prelimina 
course of instruction which they were uttei 
unable to supply. When once the idea was si 
gested that even if there were no actors to 
the plays, the plays might be renovated to fit 1 
actors, it was not long before it was put ii 
execution. 

There was no diflSiculty in finding complaci 
adapters, ready to undertake the job of modi 
ing and condensing the action, pmning and pa 
phrasing the dialogue in order to make it m( 
amenable to untrained diction, and devising n 
** business** for the aggrandizement of ** stars* 
in the near future Augustin Daly was to beco 
one of the most conspicuous of these offenders 
heedless of the fact that in this process of tra 
formation and emasculation the spirit and essei 
of the original, with most of its literary, 1 
torical, and typical value, must be ruthlessly ( 
stroyed. And so it came to pass in the progri 

22 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

of the years that the nnsophisticated public was 
beguiled with so-called revivals of the ** legiti- 
mate" drama which actually were nondescript 
perversions of the original article, often enter- 
taining enongh in their way, bnt valueless from 
the literary, artistic, or histrionic point of view. 
But at the Haymarket, in the period under con- 
sideration, the old comedies — except for the 
"cuts" sanctioned by the best stage usage — 
were given as they were written and in ac- 
cordance with the old scene plans and directions. 
There were no elaborate and costly interiors, no 
enclosed box scenes, flats and wings were shifted 
before the eyes of the spectators, and the players 
made their exits and their entrances through the 
first, second, or third groove. The realism, of 
course, was less than in these more fanciful and 
luxurious scenic days, but the vexatious stage 
waits of the present were avoided, while the 
illusion of actuality was, for all practical pur- 
poses, as well maintained as it is now. All stage 
scenery, from the crudest daub to the most ex- 
quisitely finished pictures exhibited by Henry 
Irving, or the symbolical and impressionistic 
fantasies of Gordon Craig, are necessarily and 
manifestly a bit of make-believe, and at its best 
can only contribute to the illusion created by the 
actors, the main dependence of the theater. 

23 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

It was not my good fortune to see many of the 
standard comedies as interpreted at the Hay- 
market. The representations which are most dis- 
tinct in my memory are those of ** Twelfth 
Night, ^^ ^^The Rivals/^ '^The School for Scandal,'' 
and **She Stoops to Conquer/' I have forgotten 
the names and even the aspect of many of the 
principal actors, but several of the characteriza- 
tions are still vivid to me. Among them are the 
Sir Benjamin Backbite and Tony Lumpkin of 
Buckstone, the Crabtree of Henry Compton, the 
Sir Peter Teazle, Sir Anthony Absolute, and Old 
Hardcastle of William Chippendale, and the Mrs. 
Candor of Mrs. Chippendale. I must have seen 
**As You Like It," having a clear vision of 
Compton as Touchstone, but can recall nothing 
else in the performance. Buckstone was a little 
rotund man, with a squeaking, nasal voice and 
merry twinkling eyes on either side of a tip-tilted 
nose. He was an admirable low comedian, the 
very embodiment of comic geniality. The appa- 
rition of his face in the wings was enough to set 
his audience in a roar. But he did not, like many 
inferior farceurs, trust entirely to his personality 
for his stage effects. He could not disguise his 
identity, but he was an actor and changed his 
manners with his impersonations. His Ague- 
cheek was dry, inane, droll, and Shakespearean. 

24 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

His Tony Lnmpkiii was a rustic hobbledehoy, 
loutish, prankish, selfish, cunning, yet not alto- 
gether ungenerous or unamiable. The complex 
elements in it were artfully harmonized, and it 
retained the buoyancy of youth after he was a 
septuagenarian. It was in such whimsical trifles 
as Maddison Morton *s **Box and Cox** that he 
gave the fullest play to his natural humor. 

His associate in this absurdity was Henry 
Compton, and the amount of fun which the pair 
contrived to extract from it was amazing. On 
the printed page the piece seems absolutely fool- 
ish and dull, but in action it is full of comic situa- 
tions, which these experienced and highly trained 
actors elaborated and emphasized with an ex- 
traordinary wealth of varied resource. In their 
most extravagant moods they kept within the 
limits of plausibility, the intervals between their 
broadest strokes being filled with delicate and sug- 
gestive byplay. The general effect was helped 
by the contrast between their methods. Compton 
was tall, lean, grave, and dry as a chip, with keen, 
intellectual features. Buckstone was unctuous, 
shrill, brisk, and demonstrative, and altogether 
plebeian. The cooperation between them was 
perfect, and during their performance the merri- 
ment never slackened for an instant. The subse- 
quent popularity of the farce, which in spite of 

25 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

its silliness came to be regarded as a sort of 
classic, was largely, if not entirely, due to their 
interpretation of it, upon which all later repeti- 
tions were founded. It is the fashion nowadays 
to deride farce as something nnworthy of our 
cultivated attention. But the best of it was more 
human and no more foolish than most of our 
musical comedy, and when enacted with such 
sincerity and executive skill as was displayed by 
these old Haymarket players it acquired a definite 
artistic value. 

Chippendale, well known in New York in his 
younger days, was a pillar of the Haymarket 
company for many years. In many respects he 
might be compared with John Gilbert. In Lon- 
don he disputed preeminence in the higher 
comedy with Phelps and the first and second 
Farren. I saw him act repeatedly. He had not 
the inches, the bulk, the physical force, or the 
magnificent volcanic choler of Gilbert, but he was 
a finished type of the old-style player, with an 
expressive, attractive, mobile face, good voice, 
figure, and carriage. His diction was admirable, 
his gesture free, graceful, and significant, his 
manner refined and dignified. He had control 
of both passion and pathos and a fount of mellow 
humor, which, even in old age, preserved its 
freshness and whimsicality. 

26 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

His masterpiece, perhaps, was his Sir Peter 
Teazle, a most vital picture of an elderly beau, 
a trifle precise, formal, and cynical, but thor- 
oughly well bred and courteous, obstinate, irasci- 
ble, and generous. His cynical utterances were 
delightful. To Lady Teazle his behavior 
throughout was paternal rather than conjugal, 
fond and wistful, not adoring. In the quarrel 
scene his transition from a mood of tender banter 
to one of passionate and disgusted protest was 
marked by most skilful and humorous gradations. 
In the screen scene he was manfully pathetic in 
his confidences with Joseph, exhilaratingly mis- 
chievous in his explanations to Charles, and a 
stHking picture of surprise and mortification 
mingled with anger and contempt after the 
climactic revelation. The whole embodiment was 
a memorable bit of portraiture. His Sir Anthony 
Absolute was a companion study of almost equal 
merit. The part, of course, is much simpler than 
that of Sir Peter, and his comprehension of it 
was complete, but in the * 'frenzies," as Sir 
Anthony called them, he fell short of the eruptive 
power of either Phelps or Gilbert. As Hard- 
castle he was the equal of anybody at any time, 
a splendid specimen of the English country gen- 
tleman, simple, with a natural courtesy, free from 
all affectation, shrewd without suspicion, frank, 

27 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

hospitable, peppery, but full of the milk of human 
kindness. 

But these Haymarket representations, after all, 
were more noteworthy for their all-around 
efficiency than for the brilliancy of individual 
achievements. Each member of the company was 
competent for the work he had to do and fitted 
neatly in the general scheme. There were no 
loose or creaking joints in the machinery, the 
appropriate atmosphere was preserved from 
first to last, there were no awkward or painful 
inconsistencies. The stage managers of those 
days, if not themselves expert actors, were, at 
least, experts in the whole art of acting and of 
stage production, knew how things ought to be 
done, and could and did show the actual playerejl 
how to do them. They licked tyros into shi4>e ] 
and converted wooden supernumeraries into liv- 
ing human beings. They had the faculty of 
blending discordant details into one harmonious 
whole. Such men as Macready, Charles Kean, 
•Buckstone, Ben Webster, Phelps, and John Eyder 
were always, to a large extent, their own stage- 
managers, instructing their assistants concerning 
the preliminaries and putting on the finishing 
touches themselves. 

They were exacting taskmasters. A new piece 
was rehearsed for weeks until all the minor per- 

28 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

formers could go through all the carefully pre- 
scribed evolutions with mechanical exactness, and 
were letter perfect. Woe to the unfortunate actor 
who was not on his appointed spot and instant 
in his speech when he was a factor in one of 
Macready's laboriously calculated "points.** 
Buckstone, too, could be a martinet in these mat- 
ters, realizing that rapidity and smoothness are 
the chief essentials of stage illusion. And he 
was as conscientious in the preparation of new 
plays as he was in that of classic masterpieces. 
His company, after a spell of old comedy, fell 
into this modem style with ready adaptability. 
**The Overland Route" of Tom Taylor, a clever 
but by no means dazzling piece, became extraor- 
dinarily effective in their hands and added 
greatly to the reputation of its author. The cast 
included, if I remember rightly, Buckstone, 
Compton, AV. F. Howe — then in his prime — Mr. 
and Mrs. Chippendale, and Charles Mathews. 

Equally notable was the first performance at 
the Haymarket of that silly but long-lived play, 
'*An American Cousin," in which E. A. Sothern 
won fame and fortune as Lord Dundreary. All 
^\jneriean theatergoers, even the youngest (as 
E. H. Sothern recently revived it), know some- 
thing of that play and its history. But no one 
who did not see the elder Sothern 's performance 

29 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

in London in the sixties can appreciate the true 
artistic value of it, or understand the serious 
critical commendation bestowed upon it. 

During the Crimean War the soldiers of the 
British army were allowed to grow their beards, 
and after peace had been proclaimed it became 
the fashion among the heavy ** swells'' of the 
Household Cavalry to cultivate with the mus- 
tache the long side whiskers called by the vulgar 
*' Piccadilly weepers." Many of these warriors, 
the pampered darlings of aristocratic maidens, 
affected a languid, lackadaisical manner, and a 
drawling, haw-haw style of speech which was 
essentially contemptible and ridiculous. They 
were conspicuous objects in the parks and in the 
stalls of the theater. When civilians began to 
copy them they soon cut off their whiskers and 
talked more like men and less like donkeys. In 
spite of their absurdity they were polished gen- 
tlemen. Sothern perceived the comic opportunity 
in them when, to his disgust, he was cast origi- 
nally by Laura Keene in the small part of Dun- 
dreary in ''Our American Cousin" in New York, 
dressed it in imitation of one of these military 
exquisites, and resolved to play it in the spirit 
of caricature. 

Coming on the stage at the final dress rehearsal 
(I knew him well and am telling the story from 

30 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

his own lips), he canght his toe in the carpet and 
nearly fell headlong, saving himself by an im- 
provised skip. Miss Keene saw the skip, but not 
the cause of it, and asked indignantly whether 
that was his idea of a British nobleman. He, 
piqued by the rebuke, replied in the aflfirmative, 
repeated the skip intentionally at the first public 
performance, and made the hit that led to for- 
tune. Virtually his impersonation was a bur- 
lesque. By the time the play reached London his 
part had been expanded until it was the central 
feature and he acted it in a vein of light comedy 
with just enough exaggeration to impart the tang 
of satire to gentle caricature. So near to life 
did he get that Punch published a picture show- 
ing half a dozen cavalrymen — potential Dun- 
drearys — in the stalls discussing their imitator 
on the stage. His embodiment was a veritable 
creation, well proportioned, consistent, finished to 
the nails, a most felicitous portrayal of a foolish, 
kindly, well-mannered, perplexed, and helpless 
fop. In deftness, delicacy, veracity, and mirth- 
provoking capacity it would compare favorably 
with some of the most notable achievements in 
comedy. Afterward I went to see him play the 
part in New York — not many years later — and 
found him indulging in all sorts of buffoonery, 
which was re^warded with roars and shouts of 

31 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

approval. The polish, the refinement, the de- 
lightful delicacy and finish had been replaced by 
the cheapest of farcical expedients. When I 
asked him why he risked his reputation with 
such clowning, he replied that he had to give his 
audience what it wanted, that the American pub- 
lic had its own notions about the British aris- 
tocracy, and that his London conception would 
be neither understood nor accepted. Conditions 
have changed since then. 



32 



in 



SADLER'S WELLS, SAMUEL PHELPS AND 
SOME OF HIS CONTEMPORARIES 

It was at Sadler's Wells Theater, in the 
despised suburb of Islington, that the ideal work 
of the stock company was done in the days of 
my boyhood. There Samuel Phelps reigned for 
seventeen years, and exemplified, in a more strik- 
ing way than any other manager — Macready, 
Kean, and Henry Irving not excepted — the 
readmess of the masses to support the higher 
drama. The old Prince of Wales's Theater, be- 
fore the occupation of it by the Bancrofts, was 
not so disreputable a hole as '*The Wells" when 
Phelps took it, and was in a far more promising 
neighborhood. Islington, indeed, was densely 
populous, but exceedingly poor and shabby. It 
abounded in small shops, taverns, cheap lodging- 
houses and slums, and small tradesmen, me- 
chanics, the commoner kind of clerks, peddlers, 
innumerable wage-earners of different kinds, 
with a plentiful sprinkling of degraded '^sports,'* 
constituted the great bulk of the inhabitants. 

33 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

**The Wells'* had been devoted to what woiil( 
now be described as vaudeville, to tenth-rate bos 
ing matches, comic concerts, acrobatic shows, an( 
so on. It was one of the dingiest, dirtiest, an< 
in every way most objectionable resorts imagii 
able. 

When Phelps secured <K)ntrol of it and ax 
nounced his intention of making it the home o 
the classic drama, his friends thought him, insane 
He was without influence or strong financial o 
social backing. He was well known as an actoi 
— ^but not in Islington — ^for he had long been th 
right hand of Macready, who fully realized hi 
abilities, dreaded his rivalry, and deliberately 
as he himself confessed, tried to keep him in tb 
background, saying that he was young and coul 
afford to wait. The selfish remark was eminentl 
characteristic of the old actor, but there can b 
no doubt that the experience which Phelps gaine 
in that prolonged service was invaluable to hu 
in after years. I was not out of the nurser 
when the Sadler's Wells campaign began, an 
was only a biggish boy when it ended. The onl 
representation I ever saw there was **A Mic 
summer Night's Dream," the excellence of whic 
I was far too young to understand, But later o 
I spent many long days among the newspapc 
files in the old Jerusalem Chamber in the City c 

34 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

London and greedily devoured the contemporary 
criticisnis of that wonderfnl series of revivals, 
which included all the plays of Shakespeare ex- 
cept two or three, and of many of the old Eliza- 
bethans, Massinger, Ford, Fletcher, Otway, Mar- 
lowe, and others, to say nothing of notable 
modem works by such writers as Talfourd, 
Browning, Shell, and Bulwer-Lytton. Of this 
period I can say nothing from personal knowl- 
edge — I am writing solely from memory and my 
own notes, with a studious avoidance of books 
of reference — ^but the historical records are open 
toaU, 

Phelps was continuously successful from the 
moment he first raised his curtain with a revival 
of "Macbeth.'* From his **pit'' and galleries 
lie received solid and unwavering support. His 
profits were not large, for his expenses were 
considerable and his prices low. He could not 
have indulged in costly spectacle, even if he had 
liad any desire to do so; but his scenery was 
sufficient, his costumes accurate if inexpensive, 
while his company, always capable from top to 
bottom, included at different times most of the 
remaining well-known players who had served 
their novitiate under the Kembles, Macready, and 
the Keans. To the illiterate denizens of Isling- 
ton, or most of them, his representations must 

35 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

have been strange and phenomenal, but they 
hailed them with enthusiasm and soon learned to 
appland them with . discrimination. Before long 
they furnished the most expert and exacting 
Shakespearean audiences in London. There has 
never been a more striking instance of the educa- 
tional power of the theater or of the natural ca- 
pacity of the masses to comprehend and their will- 
ingness to pay for what is noblest and best in the 
drama. Phelps had virtually won his victory before 
the fashionable West End of the town awoke to a 
realization of the intellectual and dramatic feast 
that he was providing, and began to make pil- 
grimages to Islington, which elsewhere was 
already recognized as the Mecca of all Shake- 
speareans. 

It was in the later sixties, when Phelps, weary- 
ing of managerial anxieties, but still in fullest 
vigor, had retired from the house which he had 
raised to enduring fame, that I had frequent op- 
portunities of seeing him and many of his lead- 
ing associates, in various London theaters, in a 
number of their most admired parts. Among 
these players were Mrs. Warner, the first Lady 
Macbeth at The Wells and one of Phelps's most 
able co-workers ; Mrs. Charles Young (afterward 
Mrs. Hermann Vezin), Miss Atkinson, Miss 
Marriott, William Creswick, Henry Marston, 

36 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Fred. Robinson, James Anderson, John Ryder, 
and Walter Lacy, each one of them a trained 
actor of the first class. 

In writing of Phelps I fear that I shall lay 
myself open to the suspicion of hyperbole, but 
each word shall be carefully weighed. I do not 
think he was endowed largely, if at all, with the 
divine gift of genius. He emitted no flashes of 
lightning, as did Edmund Kean, and revealed no 
such grasp of the poetic and philosophic side of 
Hamlet as did Edwin Booth. But it is my de- 
liberate judgment that he was incomparably the 
finest actor I have ever seen, with the single ex- 
ception of Salvini, who stands by himself alone. 
It has always been a cause of wonderment to me 
that, notwithstanding his great popularity, his. 
admitted achievements, and the fervent praise 
lavished upon him by the most authoritative 
critics of his day, he should have fallen into 
comparative oblivion so soon after his death. 
Possibly it may be accounted for, partly, by two 
facts: one, that he was deficient in that myste- 
rious attribute of personal fascination which con- 
fers upon some actors a notoriety altogether 
disproportionate to their artistic merits — the 
feminine admiration and gossip which deck the 
**matinee darling'' with fictitious renown — and 
second, that he never gained, nor sought, admis- 

37 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

sion to those charmed social circles in the rays 
of whose favor Charles Kean loved to bask. 

Phelps had none of the gloss of fashion upon 
him. Off the stage he conveyed the impression 
of being a rough, anstere man. Yet he was kindly 
and humorous, although his humor was of a some- 
what saturnine order. He spent his youth at 
the printer's case, until success in amateur 
theatricals led him to seek fortune on the stage. 
Years of arduous and unrewarded struggle fol- 
lowed, and these hardened him. An industrious 
student and indefatigable worker himself, he was 
a stem taskmaster when master of his own thea- 
ter. He could be tolerant of striving inability, 
but not of slovenliness. In person, when I knew 
him, he presented a vigorous, military figure, of 
medium height, broad, spare, and athletic. His 
head was well set upon his shoulders. His face 
was powerful and peculiar rather than pleasing. 
It was set in hard lines, though remarkably mobile 
and flexible when he was acting. A high fore- 
head, framed in long black locks covering the 
ears, surmounted a pair of heavy, straight eye- 
brows, slanting downward from the center, over 
small, deep-set, reflective eyes, which could, upon 
occasion, open very widely. The mouth was 
large, thin-lipped, and resolute, and the jaws un- 
commonly broad and square. In repose the whole 

38 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

conntenance was rigid and inexpressive, but in 
action it was a changeable mask of rare plas- 
ticity, a fit implement for a player of unrivaled 
versatility. 

Many stories are extant concerning the Protean 
gifts of Garrick, but if they rest upon no surer 
foundations than those of the manifestly exag- 
gerated estimates of him as a Shakespearean 
devotee, they are scarcely entitled to unlimited 
credit. Within the last century, at any rate, no 
player on the English-speaking stage has demon- 
strated a versatility even approaching that of 
Phelps. The best contemporary critics differed 
in opinion as to whether he was superior in 
comedy or in tragedy. All agreed that in certain 
tragic and comic characters he had no rival. My 
own view is that he was equally good in both de- 
partments, and I wish that I could enter into 
fuller detail than the time and space at my dis- 
posal will permit to prove my case. I saw him 
more than twenty times in all in eighteen widely 
contrasted characters, which, though they formed 
but a small part of his extraordinary repertory, 
certainly afforded convincing evidence of his uni- 
versality. These were King Lear, Macbeth, 
Othello, King John, Henry IV, Falstaff, Justice 
Shallow, Wolsey, Sir Peter Teazle, Sir Anthony 
Absolute, Sir Pertinax McSycophant, Manfred, 

39 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

John Bull, Mr. Oakley in ''The Jealous Wift 
King James and Trapbois in Halliday's ** 
of Scots/* Bertuccio, and Richelieu. His 
(I am speaking of the English-speaking 
only) was one of the most satisfying interpn^ 
tions of that unactable conception that I 
seen. It was ruggedly majestic in the O] 
scenes, tempestuous in passion, and infinij 
pitiful in the shifting humors of its di 
and despair. In vocal and elocutionary resoi 
it was superb. It combined the strength of F^ 
rest with the subtle intelligence of Edwin Boaihi^ 
The latter player, in later years, often reminded 
me of Phelps in his treatment of the mad scenes 
with Edgar, the Fool and Kent, and sometimes 
excelled him in ingenuity of emphasis. PossiUy^, J 
too, he sounded a richer chord of pathos thaft'j 
did the English actor in the recognition of Cor- 
delia, but in passages of tragic force, in the curse, 
for instance, and the address to the elementSi 
and in sustained realism, Phelps carried off the 
palm. He distanced such meritorious performers 
as E. L. Davenport, Lawrence Barrett, and John 
McCullough. 

As Macbeth he was less imaginative, poetic, 
and pathetic than Booth (I am thinking of the 
latter *s collapse after the apparition of Banquo), 
but more robust and terrible and, to my mind, 

40 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

closer to the spirit of Shakespeare. His Thane 
had fits of remorseful and sullen despondency, 
but was neither sentimental nor hag-ridden. He ' 
might be temporarily unnerved and shaken — as 
by the ghostly visitation at the banquet — ^but he 
rallied quickly and was himself again, bloody, 
bold, and resolute. He was a rough warrior of his 
period, prompt, sagacious, fierce, and, in the main, 
unscrupulous, though he was not devoid of all 
sense of honor or wholly immune against qualms 
of conscience. His utterance of the words ''To- 
morrow, as he purposes,*' in reply to his wife*s 
insidious question concerning Duncan, was 
charged with deadly meaning, making it plain 
that his mind was one with hers end that he 
needed no sharp application of the spur to his 
intent, while his subsequent reflection, ''He's 
here in double trust," ending with the decision, 
'*We will proceed no further in this business," 
suggested full comprehension of the situation and 
the possible consequences of his treachery rather 
than any spiritual revolt from the enormity of 
the crime itself. His concluding outburst, '*I 
dare do all that may become a man ; he who dares 
more is none," with the emphasis upon the 
"dare" rather than upon the "more," showed 
that the contemptuous chiding of his wife had 
ended his compunction. 

41 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

In the famous dagger soliloquy Phelps was 
deeply impressive. He suggested horror rather 
than terror, the horror of a physical courage 
tensely braced to meet the shock of an incalculable 
menace. The wonderful lines were spoken with 
a power of descriptive emphasis and a tonal 
beauty worthy of Salvini himself or the elder 
Bellew. The actor held the audience in a spell. 
In his remorseful fit after the murder, in which, 
like Macready and others, he followed the tradi- 
tional business, the daggers clicking like castanets 
in his palsied hands, he did not, as so many other 
players have elected to do at this point, reveal 
himself an absolute craven. Unstrung, in reac- 
tion after the strain, he yet maintained a measure 
of self-control, and amid all his temporary be- 
wilderment and dread there was an undertone of 
determination. His ''Look on't again, I dare 
not,'* was closely akin to ''I will not,'* as con- 
sistency plainly demands. And it may be noted 
here that the complete collapse of many Macbeths 
at this juncture is absolutely irreconcilable with 
the composure with which they receive Macduflf 
a few minutes afterward, almost before they 
could have had time to ''wash the filthy witness'* 
from their hands. Phelps — and perhaps Mac- 
ready before him — evidently perceived this ab- 
surdity. At all events his conception of a strong 

42 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Macbeth, imperious even in dealings with the 
witches, was maintained from first to last with a 
fine consistency. And if it were more notable 
for its bold outlines than for the accumulation of 
detail with which some of his successors — ^Booth 
and Irving, for instance — ^have embroidered it, 
it never attempted to substitute intellectual 
subtleties for tragic expression. Here was a 
Macbeth capable of the crimes, the furies, and 
the desperation ascribed to him, and no sub- 
sequent impersonation of the part has been equal 
to it in justness of proportion, vigor, or pic- 
tnresqueness. 

The Othello of Phelps was a sound, straight- 
forward performance, with some imposing out- 
bursts of passion and moments of melting pathos, 
but it attained to no dizzy heights. It was an 
eminently satisfactory bit of Shakespearean work, 
but it was not ijispired. The most remarkable 
feature of it, perhaps, was the elocution. The 
speech to the Senate may have been delivered 
with more oratorical and Oriental grace — Edwin 
Booth shone greatly in it — but it has never, in 
my hearing, been spoken with such soldierly sim- 
plicity or such natural dignity as it was by 
Phelps. And his delivery of the '* Farewell'* 
speech was exquisite in its melody and pathos. 
As a whole the impersonation followed standard 

43 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

lines, though the technical execution and the physi- 
cal power of it raised it to H level much above the 
ordinary standard. 

His Kong John, according to contemporary 
critics, was a copy, though not a servile one, of 
Macready's famous impersonation. It is reason- 
able to believe that he followed the main lines of 
his great predecessor's conception pretty closely, 
and I shall riot ask for him the credit of their 
invention. But his copy, if copy it was, was one 
which must have reproduced most of the virtues 
of the original. It was a most vivid sketch of 
this shifty, cruel, treacherous, and ambitious 
prince. He gave ringing effect to the bold de- 
fiance of the Pope and the French King, enacted 
the temptation scene with Hubert with consum- 
mate craft, and the death scene with ghastly and» 
pitiful fidelity. 

His Wolsey, too, almost inevitably, was con- 
structed upon established precedents, but it was 
finished with masterly skill. It had little in com- 
mon with the ascetic, intellectual prelate of Henry 
Irving. Arrogant, curt, and imperious in speech 
and action, he had much more of the statesman 
than the priest about him, except in the matter 
of his robes, his whole aspect and carriage being 
suggestive of his humble origin, justifying, in 
some degree, the epithet of ''butcher's cur'* ap- 

44 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

plied to him by Bnckingham, But it was a vital, 

fonnidable, and dominant personality that he 

presented. It was in his dosing scenes, of oonrse, 

that he created his most striking effects. Even 

after the crushing rebnke of him by the King, he 

abated no jot of his pngnacions attitude in the 

encounter with the nobles sent to demand from 

him the resignation of his offices, and his gift of 

biting, sarcastic speech — one of his many notable 

histrionic furnishings — ^gave deadly point to his 

barbed replies. Being alone, he muttered bitterly, 

"So, farewell to the little good ye bear me,'* and 

then, after a brief pause of melancholy reflection, 

entered meditatively upon that famous soliloquy 

which, whether or not Fletcher wrote it, is one 

of the brightest gems in the play. No one who 

has ever heard Phelps speak it will forget the 

music, the pathos, or the passionate yearning 

with which he filled it. And his final charge to 

Cromwell was almost equally memorable as an 

example of the choicest declamation. 



45 



IV 



MORE OP SAMUEL PHELPS IN SHAKE- 
SPEAREAN AND OTHER IMPER- 
SONATIONS 

In one of the last Shakespearean plays in 
which I saw Phelps * ' ' Henry IV,, ' ' he offered one 
of his amazing exhibitions of versatility, doubling 
the parts of the King and Justice Shallow. His 
impersonation of the dying Bolingbroke, broken 
by the storms of state, was a thoughtful and 
finished bit of portraiture — as was each of his 
countless creations — ^but presented few stirring 
dramatic opportunities and may be dismissed 
briefly. But it was worth a long journey to hear 
him read the invocation to sleep. All the melody, 
imagination, and pictorial power of those splen- 
did lines found expression in the varied intona- 
tions of his superb voice, which rose and fell in 
enchanting cadences, in their fullest volume 
almost rivaling the **rude, imperious surge '* 
itself. He did some noble work also in the crown 
scene with the Prince of Wales. But his pre- 
eminence as an actor was displayed when, after 
making his exit as the Bang — a dignified, regal 
figure — by one door, he reentered, through 

46. 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

another, transformed, as if by magic, into the 
wizened, smirking, garrulous, pretentious Shal- 
low. The art of '* makeup, *' of course, accounted 
for part of the mystery, but most of it was due 
to sheer mimetic intuition. The metamorphosis 
was complete. It was only by his facial linea- 
ments that the identity of the actor was betrayed, 
itt bulk, gait, manner of speech, there was noth- 
ing to suggest it. The big, manly voice was 
turning again toward childish treble, and the 
ul^rance— rdislocated and broken, shrill, voluble, 
hesitant, pompous, or tetchy — ^was a most faith- 
ful counterfeit of senile chatter. 

In the simulation of the externals of old age 
there was not, of course, anything especially re- 
markable. Any fairly competent actor is equal 
to it. John Gilbert was famous as an * ^ old man ' ' 
almost before he had a reputation as a young 
one. But the creation of a series of distinct types 
of old age — the invention and perpetuation of 
peculiar attributes for each conception — that is a 
very different affair — and Phelps's gallery of old 
men, as will be seen, was crowded with diverse 
portraitures. It would be easy to make too much 
of the disguise, the expert theatrical side of his 
Shallow. . The precious artistic quality of it re- 
sided in the vitalization of the Shakespearean 

humor, the humor so ,patent to the reader in hi^ 

, - ■■«•--, 

47 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

study, so elusive to the actor on the boards. What 
intelligent theatergoer but has been amazed or. 
angered, possibly disillusioned, by the tiresome* 
ness before the footlights of the fools and dowmi 
with whom, on the printed page, he had been 
enchanted? Phelps's Shallow wfis a living huzDan 
being, who might well have been the actual em- 
bodiment of his creator's ideal. Whether you 
laughed with him or at him, he kept you con- 
stantly amused. With unfailing ingenuity the 
actor solved the puzzles occasionally presented 
by the dialogue, giving it cohesion and sequenoo^ 
and applying finishing touches to a consistent 
individuality. His interpretation may not always 
have been the right one, but it was always adroit, 
plausible, and appropriate, and even if the con- 
ception was flavored by a considerable infusion of 
his own humor, which was apt to be dry and 
subtle, the value of it was not diminished. 

After his Shallow, his Falstaflf (^^Henry IV") 
— antipodal to it in almost every respect — ^natu- 
rally comes to mind. At The Wells he used to 
play also the Falstaff of ''The Merry Wives." 
That I never saw him do, nor am I sorry. la '^ 
the early and true Falstaff he was delightftdt 
being far in advance of all contemporary rxvali 
with the possible exception of Hackett Some of 
his critics, comparing him with Stephen Elemble» 

48 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

who had a virtual monopoly of the character dur- 
ing the greater part of his career, complained of 
Ms lack of unction. So far as my personal ex- 
perience goes, unctuous humor is rarely a charac- 
teristic of lean, spare men, but this may not be 
a physiological fact. It is true that Phelps's 
humor was not unctuous. It was not of the 
oleaginous, luscious, or Bacchic order. As a rule 
it was hard, dry, and snappy, but it could also be 
broad and mellow as old port. His Falstaff 
might have been even better than it was, perhaps, 
if it had exuded more of the essence of the sack 
with which it was supposed to be full, but it was 
a masterly assumption, bold in effect and minute 
in finish, and what it may have lacked in liquor- 
ishness it more than made up in intellect. In 
** make-up'* it was most felicitous. By the aid 
of paint and hair the somewhat lantern-jawed 
face of the actor was made to assume a round 
and rubicund aspect, while his fictitious bulk was 
so cleverly distributed that his proportions, though 
abnormal, seemed natural. Many performers — 
Beerbohm Tree was one of them — endow the fat 
knight with a protuberance so vast as to be de- 
structive of all illusion. Phelps's Falstaff was, 
at least, a human possibility. I can see him now, 
in my mind's eye, apostrophizing Bardolph, 
cajoling the hostess, or exchanging broadsides 

49 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

with the mad Prince and Poins in Eastcheap^ or 
waddling, perspiring and breathless, on Salisbury 
Plain, chuckling contentedly over the fact that 
he **had misused the King's press most damn- 
ably/' 

No point in the racy dialogue escaped him. Vo- 
cal and facial eloquence were alike admirable. The 
crescendo in his swaggering relation of his ad- 
ventures with the **men in buckram'* — ^with its 
skilful undertone of plaintive reproach against 
the confederates who had deserted him — ^was ex- 
traordinarily comic, and nothing could be much 
more amusing than his artful recovery from the 
confusion wrought in him by the Prince's plain 
tale, than his feigned indignation and his uneasy 
chuckle developing into a roar of laughter as he 
regained his effrontery, and cried, * * By the Lord, 
I knew ye, lads, as well as he that made youl'' 
He was at his very best, too, in the delivery of 
the soliloquies on the field of battle, before and 
after the killing of Percy. In no way did he at- 
tempt to idealize the character, to gloss over its 
coarseness, its selfishness, its mendacity, or its 
cowardice, but he contrived to convey the impres- 
sion of a vagabond roisterer who had been a gen- 
tleman once, and who might have lived and died 
in respectability if circumstances, and his incli- 
nations, had not proved too strong for him. 

50 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

There is not much to be said about Phelps's 
Manfred. When the Dmry Lane managers had 
selected Byron's noble, mystic, and gloomy poem 
as a fit subject for glittering spectacle, they real- 
ized that the piece itself, being hopelessly un- 
dramatic, would have little or no attraction for 
the general public unless some notable actor was 
engaged to reinforce the scenery. Phelps, ever 
zealous in the cause of the literary drama, under- 
took the task, and his superb declamation of the 
lines — ^for there was little acting to do — ^helped 
to make the show a great success. He did not, 
however, reveal in it any new phase of his talent. 
But as Bichelieu, in Bulwer-Lytton's over-senti- 
mentalized and artificial but imaginative and 
stirring romance, he shone with great luster. It 
is unquestionable that his impersonation was 
modeled after that of Macready, whom he sup- 
ported as Joseph, but his mastery of cynical 
humor and pathos, and his gift of characteriza- 
tion, marked it with distinct individuality. It 
is probable that he fell short of the intellectual 
idealism with which Macready is said to have 
ennobled the part, but it is diiSScult to believe that 
his illustrious predecessor could have excelled 
him on the theatrical and dramatic side, in har- 
mony of conception, vigor or delicacy of finish, 
beauty of elocution or electrical power in the 

51 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

various crises. I have seen many eminent actors 
as Richelieu, but none of them — except Edwin 
Booth, to whom we shall come presently — can be 
mentioned in the same category with Phelps. In 
the grim humor of the opening interviews with 
De Mauprat, in paternal tenderness to Julie, in 
the cajolery of Joseph or Huguet, in the con- 
trasting moods of the chamber scene, in the ex- 
hortation to Frangois, in the passionate exalta- 
tion of the defiance of Baradas, in the 
triumphant mockery of the final act^ he was a 
little bit more effective, more vital, and more 
reasonable than any other Richelieu I have seen. 
In the far inferior play of **The FooPs Re- 
venge*' (Tom Taylor *s) he, as Bertuccio, was at 
least the equal of Edwin Booth in the frenzied 
agony of his appeal to the abductors of his daugh- 
ter, at the doors of the ducal chamber, and, it 
seems to me, superior even to him in emphasizing 
the venomous humor of which the part is so 
largely compounded. He used a different version 
of the play from that commonly employed by 
Booth, for he appeared in more than one scene 
as a dignified gentleman, in ordinary Venetian 
costume — without deformity or cap and bells — 
with his daughter, Fiordelisa, who was supposed 
to know nothing of the humiliating disguise which 
her father had assumed for his purpose of yen- 

52 



i 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

geance. The quality of the play, as I remember 
it, was not greatly aflfected by this variation, 
which did, however, give the actor a chance of 
appearing in a double character, as it were, an 
oppK)rtunity of which Phelps was prompt to seize 
the advantage. 

As an interpreter of high or eccentric comedy 
Phelps was as proficient as in tragedy and ro- 
mantic drama. As Sir Peter Teazle, he disputed 
the palm with Chippendale or the second Farren. 
In America his rivals would have been John Gil- 
bert and William Warren. Leading English 
critics thought his humor too hard and dry for 
the part and found him too mechanical. He cer- 
tainly was mechanical in the business with 
Charles, immediately preceding the overthrow of 
the screen, a business which he copied from the 
first Farren, who may have inherited it from 
King, and which has been adopted with more or 
less fidelity by many successive Sir Peters; and 
there can be no question of the dryness of his 
humor. Whether that quality is inconsistent with 
the character of *'a crusty old bachelor'* is a 
question which need not now be argued. Per- 
sonally I could discover nothing aggressively 
mechanical in the action of his Sir Peter, although 
it exhibited the proper formality of the period, 
and the precision that comes with assured skill. 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

It lacked a certain amiability which characterized 
Chippendale's embodiment — in its unvexed mo- 
ments — and was, perhaps, somewhat too hard- 
headed and astute for an elderly swain who had 
shown so little worldly wisdom in his love mak- 
ing, but it was consistent and persistently amus- 
ing. Every point in the witty lines was driven 
home. 

But his Sir Peter was not the equal of his 
Sir Anthony Absolute. The latter was a part 
thoroughly congenial to his masterly style and 
natural temperament — he was a man of generous 
but fiery nature — and he played it with a whole- 
souled enthusiasm. Chippendale, who was also 
famous in the part, had the humor and the tech- 
nique, but not the acerbity or the power. John 
Gilbert was his only rival. I will not attempt to 
institute comparisons between the two with the 
idea of deciding which of them was the better. 
They were not alike, but they were very nearly 
equal. The choler of both was magnificent. 
Phelps was brisker in movement, more manifestly 
peppery, than Gilbert, but in the latter 's leisurely 
gait and sullen brow there was always the menace 
of impending thunder. In the finish and power 
of either conception there was little to choose. 
But Gilbert, with all his broad efficiency, could 
not have played successfully in Sir Pertinax 

54 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

MacSycophanty the hero of Macklin's old comedy, 
**The Man of the World/' Of this Phelps made 
one of his masterpieces, an impersonation to take 
rank with the greatest achievements of the stage. 
The comedy itself possesses no extraordinary 
merit, but the central figure is a vital bit of 
satirical writing, which makes very exacting de- 
mands upon the comic and tragic powers of the 
interpreting actor. Briefly, Sir Pertinax is an 
unscrupulous, heartless, miserly hypocrite, who 
has achieved wealth and station by his mean sub- 
serviency and his disregard of every decent and 
honorable instinct. Finally, all his schemes fail, 
his self-degradation recoils upon him, and his 
end is as tragic as that of Sir Giles Overreach. 
The fact that the part is in the Scotch dialect in- 
creases its difficulty. Of the dialect Phelps was 
a complete master — ^he used to play Rob Roy and 
Bailie NicoU Jarvie in Edinburgh — and he also 
had the comic and the emotional power. His 
Sir Pertinax was a combination of humorous and 
terrible reality, a wonderfully composite study 
in which shameless greed and cunning, inflexible 
purpose, and jealous hatred were artfully sug- 
gested beneath an affectation of complacent 
humility. The man had the suppleness, the sleek- 
ness, the stealth, and the innate savagery of that 
domesticated tiger, the cat. There is one notably 

55 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

eflfective speech in the play, in which Sir Pertinax 
nnfolds to the hero — ^his nephew, whom he 
despises and detests on account of his humane 'i 
and manly qualities — the policy of his own life, 
the secret, as he boasts, of his prosperity and 
power. It was by ''booing^' (bowing), and by 
booing only, in all imaginable circumstances, that ^ 
he had disarmed hostility, averted suspioiony 
hidden guile, and misled sagacity. The oynioal 
effrontery with which Phelps declaimed this i 
speech, the variety of emphasis and gesture with 
which he illustrated and enforced his argumenty 
and the eloquence of his facial play as he watched j 
the effect of it, were extraordinary. And the , 
effect was due entirely to art, not in any way to \ 
his individual personality. In the scene of his 
final exposure and overthrow, the fury of his , 
despair and of his insensate and impotent rage 
was appalling. The only paroxysmal ontbnntt; 
to compare with it that I have witnessed upon thtf ' 
English-speaking stage were in the Pescara at: 
Edwin Booth and the Sir Giles Overreach of Eii 
L. Davenport. 

Admirable as Phelps was in the Colman com- 
edies, ''John Buir' and ''The Jealous Wife,'' it 
is not necessary to dwell upon either impersona- 
tion. "John Buir* owed its one-time popularity 
to its admixture of patriotic and sentimental . 

56 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

daptrapy to which he imparted temporary value 
by Ms simplicity, sincerity, and vigor, while the 
part of Oaidey did not reveal him in any new 
light But his expert handling of it made it 
amusing, which was more than Charles Coghlan 
could do when he essayed it in New York, many 
years later. But this cursory review of his 
achievements must not close without some refer- 
ence to the characteristic display of versatility 
and finished artistry which he afforded in ''The 
Eiog of Scots,'' Halliday's dramatization of 
"The Fortunes of Nigel.'* In this spectacular 
melodrama, he furnished two most striking 
studies — the word is used advisedly — one of the 
wise, foolish, weak, timid, opinionated King 
James, and the other of the wretched old miser, 
Trapbois. They were as clearly cut and as 
antipodal as his Henry IV and Shallow. His 
James, who might have stept out of a canvas by 
Van Dyke, was delightful in his pedantic humors, 
his frequent lapses from royal dignity, his rapid 
alternations between frolicsome and querulous 
moods, his braggadocio, and his comic timorous- 
ness. 

From heels to plume he was alive. In Trap- 
bois the actor, shrunk to half his girth, presented 
a terrible realization of senile avarice and vice. 
In the quavering voice, bent and wizened form, 

57 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

and tottering limbs, there was not a trace of the 
serio-comic monarch who had jnst quitted the 
stage, nor was it easy to assure oneself of the 
actor's identity. The illusion of a double per- 
sonality was absolute. Part of it, of course, was 
due to theatrical device, but much more of it to 
sheer mimetic art. The characters in themselves 
were insignificant, but the fortune of any player 
would be made who could vitalize either of them 
as Phelps did, and his achievement is related 
here as evidence of the histrionic efficiency pro- 
duced by the old-time stock-company training. 
His impersonations amounted to hundreds, but 
nothing would be gained by giving a full list of 
them, even if I had it. But a few of them, in 
which he won special renown, may be mentioned 
at haphazard. His Bottom, the Weaver, was the 
most celebrated on record, and won the en- 
thusiastic commendation of accomplished critics. 
His whole production of **A Midsummer Night's 
Dream" has been characterized as one of the 
most enlightened and poetic in theatrical annals. 
Played largely behind gauze, in a dim, roseate 
light, and without much sharply accentuated 
action, it resembled the fantastic happenings of 
a dream, and lent to the fairy episodes a highly 
appropriate and charming insubstantiality. The 
painful discrepancy between the manifest solidity 

58 



I 



SIXTY YEAKS OF THE THEATER 

of earthly actors and the supposed immateriality 
of the shapes they occupy was thus, to a great 
extent, avoided. He won other triumphs, as 
Dogberry, as Malvolio, as Lord Ogleby, Sir GUes 
Overreach, Alfred Evelyn, and Sir Edward 
Mortimer, in **The Iron Chest/* He won appro- 
bation as Benedick, and made a star part of 
Christopher Sly, remaining upon the stage 
throughout the entire performance of * * The Tam- 
ing of the Shrew, '* and heightening the effect by 
his appropriate byplay. He had his failures. 
His Hamlet was heavy and his lago unim- 
aginative, but no player of his generation was 
more completely master of his trade. 

Macready I saw once, long after his retire- 
ment. When Phelps made his first appearance, 
at the West End, as King John, he occupied the 
seat of honor in the royal box, and evidently fol- 
lowed the performance with the liveliest interest. 
He was liberal with applause, and when his old 
leading man, having been called before the cur- 
tain, bowed to him, stood up and bent low in 
answering salutation. He was a handsome figure. 
His tall form was still erect, and he carried his 
head — with the long, white locks framing the 
strong, stem face — very proudly. Looking at 
him, it was easy to understand how unfitted he 
was by temperament for the vexatious life of the 

59 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

theater. Soon after this Helen Faucit (Lady 
Theodore Martin) returned to the stage for a 
single performance of Juliet^ for some charitable 
object, and I was Incky enough to get a seat. 

She was then fifty-three years old and made 
no effort to conceal the signs of middle age. She 
wore bunches of curls, I remember, over her 
ears, with side and back-combs, in Spanish fash- 
ion. Whether they were the proper thing or not 
in Verona in the days of the Montagus and 
Capulets, I can not say, but the style was not 
becoming to her, and there was nothing in her 
face or person to suggest the fascinating and 
impassioned Juliet. Nor was there much ap- 
parent endeavor to simulate either youth or pas- 
sion in her impersonation, which, to me, was a 
grievous disappointment. But, nevertheless, it 
had some notable qualities. It had the large, 
free, significant gesture and the fine diction of 
the old school. She recited rather than acted, 
the balcony scene, but her reading of the lines 
was delicious. With the nurse she was, to my 
thinking, self-conscious, artificial, and affected, 
but that coaxing episode had not then been over- 
burdened with ridiculous pantomime, as it has 
been since, by the grace of * * prof essors ' ' (as 
they truly are in one sense), in so-called dramatic 
schools. In the potion scene she exhibited im- 

60 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

pressive declamatory power, giving each word 
and clause its value, and artfully saving her 
voice for the climaxes, when she poured it forth 
in magnificent volume, without degenerating into 
shrieking, inarticulate vehemence. It was a fine 
piece of work, thoroughly intelligent and artistic, 
but not inspired. She did not thrill me with a 
sense of clairvoyant horror, as did Stella Colas. 
But she had not the spell of youth and beauty to 
aid her. She undoubtedly satisfied the fastidious 
taste of Macready in the early days, when she 
adored him, and he, not insusceptible to her 
charmSy was her preceptor and guide. It was 
fortunate, perhaps, that she died before the latest 
edition of his diaries — showing how he derided 
her abilities as soon as her friendly intimacy 
with biTTi had ceased — ^was published. She was 
spared a rude shock to a cherished memory. 



61 



BENJAMIN WEBSTER, CHARLES 
FECHTER, AND OTHERS 

In later days I became acquainted with the 
work of many of the distinguished actors who 
had contributed to the fame of Sadler's Wells 
under the management of Phelps. Without ex- 
ception, I believe, they were the product of stock 
companies in London or the provinces. Prom- 
inent among them was Mrs. Warner, a tragic 
actress of notable equipment, both physical and 
artistic. Li such parts as Lady Macbeth, the 
Duchess of Malfi, or Queen Katharine, she was 
the equal of Charlotte Cushman, of whom she 
had the advantage in stature and feminine charm. 
Miss Marriott was another sterling actress of 
the robust order. She was a large woman, some- 
what masculine in voice and manner. She was 
the only actress, in my experience (I never saw 
Cushman in any of her masculine assumptions), 
who could play male parts without an obvious 
betrayal of her sex. Her Hamlet, for which she 
had the shape and the inches, was, to my mind, 

62 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

a capable performance, not in the least distin- 
gnished, but fulfilling traditional requirements. 
It was intelligent, interesting, and sufficiently 
forceful, and was successful all over England. 
There is a saying that no player ever failed alto- 
gether in Hamlet. I can specify one who did, 
and that was the illustrious Sarah Bernhardt, 
whose impersonation was a presumptuous, igno- 
rant, and abominable travesty, with the feminine 
eternally dominant. 

Another fine actress who played many im- 
portant characters, in tragedy and comedy, at 
The Wells, with much success was Miss Glynn. 
She was a woman of graceful proportions and 
potent facial charm. Her greatest success, per- 
haps, was won in the difficult part of Cleopatra, 
an impersonation admitted to be the best of her 
era. Certainly I know of none superior or equal 
to it. She portrayed a woman who might be 
supposed capable of bewitching a grizzled war- 
rior and statesman, a leader in the city and the 
camp, a past master in diplomatic wiles and the 
lures of a splendid and profligate society. Her 
Queen was something more than an Oriental 
siren, luxurious, whimsical, selfish, cruel, and 
wanton. Even in her hero worship she was 
royal, and suggested something of the subtlety 
and mystery of the Serpent of Old Nile. She 

63 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

was a prize worth the winning even by a sated 
epicure. 

William Creswick was for some time a rival 
of Phelps, but, lacking initiative and adaptabil- 
ity, he fell behind in the race. As he grew older, 
he was a lamentable illustration of the pass to 
which a blind devotion to tradition may bring 
an actor. He became terribly dull and wooden, 
and lost his hold upon the public. Yet, in his 
prime, before he was a slave to the worst kind 
of mannerisms, he was a most correct and power- 
ful player. He did yeoman's work with Phelps. 
Henry Marston was a conspicuous example of 
the value of sound training. He was handi- 
capped at first by an imperfect utterance and a 
weak, unmanageable voice, but he learned to be 
one of the best speakers, as well as one of the 
most trustworthy actors, upon the stage, and for 
years was an able coadjutor of Phelps. His 
presence was dignified, and his manner graceful, 
and he was of great value in characters requiring 
a note of personal refinement. He delivered the 
dying speech of the Duke of Buckingham, in 
*' Richard III,'* which is often omitted nowadays 
for the lack of any actor able to speak it, with 
extraordinary impressiveness. 

James Anderson, who lived to a great age, was 
for years a prominent leading tragedian, and 

64 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

acted both with Phelps and Macready. He was 
endowed with lofty stature and a fine voice, ad- 
vantages which were supplemented by expert 
knowledge of his art. He had, too, a measure of 
versatility, which permitted him a considerable 
range in romance and melodrama, but the broadly 
comic vein was not well developed in him, and 
his mimetic faculty was limited. In the provinces 
he enjoyed high repute in a wide repertory of 
heroic characters, including Macbeth, Othello, 
Ingomar, and Lear. He could be tempestuous 
or ardent, but in pathetic passages he was 
dolorons rather than melting. As Joseph Surface 
he was admirable. Sleek, elegant, courteous, 
plausible, and deprecatory, he might easily have 
imposed upon a shrewder personage than Sir 
Peter. I saw him act this character in one of 
the most remarkable casts ever collected in the 
history of the comedy. Phelps was the Sir Peter, 
Mrs. Hermann Vezin the Lady Teazle, Buck- 
stone the Sir Benjamin, Henry Compton the 
Crabtree, Walter Lacy the Charles, Mrs. Chip- 
pendale the Mrs. Candor, Henry Howe the Row- 
ley, J. L. Toole the Moses, and Benjamin Web- 
ster the Snake. This was at Drury Lane, for 
the benefit of the General Theatrical Fund. 

Walter Lacy, a stalwart and graceful man, 
with a handsome and vivacious countenance, was 

65 






SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

superb in genteel and serious comedy. He could 
be dazzling and vigorous, but he had no spark of 
tragic passion in him. His Prince of Wales, in 
** Henry IV,'' was the embodiment of reckless, 
irresponsible gayety, of humorous mischief with- 
out a trace of malice in it. A merry devil was in 
his eye and laughter on his lips. The boyish 
make-believe of his Falstaffian scenes was inimit- 
able. The exhilaration and spontaneity of the 
entire impersonation gave extraordinary vitality 
to the Shakespearean invention. But in his most 
roystering moods he never quite forgot his 
princely dignity. He said and did scandalous 
things without losing his air of high breeding, 
and at the end of the play, before and after the 
death of Hotspur, bore himself as a gallant and 
courtly gentleman. His Charles Surface was a 
most engaging young scapegrace, brimful of 
animal spirits, a profligate rather than a de- 
bauchee, indifferent to everything but the gayety 
of the moment, audacious, cynical, frank, gener- 
ous, and — except in the matter of his creditors — 
honorable. The only modem impersonations 
comparable with it were those of Charles Coghlan 
and Lester Wallack. Benjamin Webster, a sep- 
tuagenarian at the time of which I am speaking, 
was a famous Snake, a character of which he was 
a very early representative. Small as the part 

66 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

is, he made it conspicuous by the polished, rep- 
tilian manner of his delineation. The obsequious 
insolence of it was at once fascinating and re- 
pellent. 

Webster is now chiefly remembered — ^when he 
is remembered at all — as the manager of the 
Adelphi when that house — ^which I haunted for 
several years — ^was recognized as the favorite 
abode of melodrama. But he was a notable man 
in more ways than one, and had an adventurous, 
stormy, but, on the whole, prosperous career. 
As an actor he was first rate in many humorous, 
emotional, and eccentric parts. As a manager he 
was capable, astute, and occasionally enterpris- 
ing; but he had the box-oflSce ever in his mind, 
was not over-ambitious or over-scrupulous; as a 
man he was humorous, convivial, capricious, and 
stubborn. He had a coterie of close friends and 
many bitter enemies. Macready, who frequently 
played under his management, detested him and 
poured out the vials of his literary wrath upon 
him, and he was often in trouble with other 
eminent performers, but remained a power in 
the theatrical profession for many years, and 
knew how to please his public. I saw him act 
very often, but it is not necessary to mention 
more than four of his impersonations as samples 
of his quality. In the old melodrama of *'The 

67 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Dead Hearf he played Robert Landry with 
really wonderful eflfect. His portrayal of the 
patriarchal prisoner rescued from the Bastille, 
with every faculty of body and mind paralyzed 
by long incarceration, with glazed and unspecu- 
lative eyes, and blank, waxen face, was infinitely 
pathetic, and his slow awakening from his torpor 
was accomplished with innumerable delicate, 
subtle, realistic strokes. 

In the later acts, his manifestation of vengeful 
purpose and cold implacability was maintained 
with a restrained forcefulness which was ex« 
ceedingly artistic and striking. His Triplet^ in 
^^ Masks and Faces" — ^he was the original oreator 
of the character — set the standard for all fotare 
performances. It was an excellently hmnaii 
sketch, full of wistful, plaintive humor and gesh 
nine pathos, and was most elaborately wrouj^L 
His skill upon the fiddle added to its realiaou 
And in the comely and vivacious Mrs. Sterling 
he had an ideal Peg WoflSngton, whUe his ochu* 
pany was capable of giving full effect to the arti- 
ficial style and racy dialogue of Charles Beaded 
comedy. (Mrs. Sterling lived and ma^intained^ 
her dramatic activities to a great age and mi 
a prime favorite of the pubic. One of her latiik-' 
triumphs was as the Nurse in Irving 's revrral 
of ^^Eomeo and Juliet.'*) Another of Wabster*^.* 

68 



BENJAMIN WEBSTER 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

excellence of the acting that made the lasting 
success of such crude pieces as **The Flowers 
of the Forest" possible. 

The Victorian theater was in a parlous condi- 
tion when Charles Fechter burst like a meteor 
upon the stage. The simile is not inept, for his 
full radiance did not last long. He won renown 
in America in later years, but only those who 
saw him during his early London career can 
rightfully appreciate his true genius. Therefore 
I speak of him here. When he reached the States 
excesses had robbed him of his figure, enfeebled 
his activities, and dimmed, though they never ex- 
tinguished, his fire. As I first knew him, he was 
a model of athletic vigor, and grossness had not 
blurred the fine and expressive lines of his face. 
Genius is a much abused word, especially in 
theatrical criticism, where it is often applied to 
performers of very ordinary intelligence. But 
Fechter exhibited indisputable genius in roman- 
tic if not in the highest form of tragic and poetic 
drama. He was an extraordinary man in many 
respects. Born in London of French and German 
parents, he spoke three languages with equal 
fluency, if not with equal felicity. His English 
pronunciation was excellent, but he never could 
rid himself of a Continental intonation. 

He won public recognition first in Paris, at the 

70 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Porte St. Martin, where he was hailed as a 
worthy successor of Frederic Lemaitre. It was 
a bold stroke when he challenged national preju- 
dice by acting Hamlet in London, but the 
notoriety he gained from the fierce press contro- 
versy that raged around him insured his success 
and paved the way for his future brilliant cam- 
paign at the Lyceum. Those controversies I have 
no notion of reviving. But nothing could be much 
more ridiculous than the objurgations hurled 
against him because he saw fit to wear a blond 
wig against all precedent. He had his defenders, 
who asked whether the Danes were not a fair- 
haired race, but most of the dramatic pundits 
and all the old actors were overwhelmingly 
against him. But the people flocked to see him 
and he had a staunch and influential backer in 
Miss Burdett-Coutts — she was not Lady Coutts 
then — ever the friend of all sorts of artists, who 
sang his praises in high places and took all her 
friends to see him. 

I saw his Hamlet in its first bloom and in its 
decline. In general conception and execution it 
was, in many respects, I think, the most satis- 
factory in my experience. It fell short of Edwin 
Booth ^s in intellectuality and meditative and 
poetic charm, and of Forbes-Eobertson's in 
idealism and oratorical precision, but it was more 

71 



V 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

human than either of them and offered a better 
blend of the various elements in the character. 
It had the dignity of the prince, the polish of the 
courtier, the melancholy of a harassed and 
vacillating mind, the culture of a scholar and 
artist, and the ardor of a lover. No actor of 
modern times has infused so much of romance 
into the tragedy as did Fechter in his scenes with 
Ophelia. Even in his renunciation of her, the 
dominant note was that of a passionate yearning. 
In the mournful cadences of his voice, in his 
bearing and gesture, he suggested the anguish 
of a devotion cruelly shocked by the shattering 
of an ideal. In the mockery of the play scene 
he was the lover still, and the proclamation of 
his passion in the ranting challenge to Laertes 
in the churchyard glowed with volcanic fire. And 
he excelled all other actors of the past known 
to me in the thrilling vehemence of his self- 
reproach in the lines beginning, '*0h, what a 
rogue and peasant slave am I!" 

In the traditional business of the character he 
had been thoroughly drilled by J. M. H. Bellew 
and others, and — except in the matter of his wig 
— he attempted no very startling innovation. It 
was in the pictorial quality of his acting, the un- 
restrained freedom and suppleness of his 
gestures, and his emotional fervor that he differed 

72 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

from accepted standards. Two of the charges 
preferred against him by hostile critics, that he 
was melodramatic, not tragic, and that he could 
not read blank verse, had some foundation in 
fact But *' romantic" would have been a juster 
word than *' melodramatic," which implies ex- 
aggeration without imagination. Fechter had 
imagination enough to comprehend the essential 
elements of Hamlet, though he may not have been 
able to plumb all his depths. His rich, illum- 
inative action — the result of his Continental 
training — proved that; but such histrionic em- 
broideries — even when explanatory and appro- 
priate — seemed irreverent to disciples of the 
severest classic school. 

His foreign intonation in Shakespearean verse 
was an indisputable and unfortunate blemish, 
but his mastery of the English language itself 
was perfect and his enunciation of it, even in the 
most rapid passages, admirably clear and cor- 
rect. In elegance of carriage and dignified 
courtesy he was inferior to none. His mockery 
of Polonius, though sufficiently pointed, was not 
offensive, as it is on the lips of many actors, and 
in his rebuke of Eosencrantz and Guildenstern, 
in which he showed fine indignation and irony, he 
did not permit his anger to detract from his per- 
sonal dignity. In his passionate upbraiding of 

73 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

his mother in the closet scene — in which he 
always stirred his audience to enthusiasm — ^he 
was not oblivious of the relationship existing be- 
tween them. The restraint of filial tenderness 

^ and compunction was denoted even in his bitter- 
est reproaches. With the grave-diggers his 
melancholy and tolerant amusement was in ex- 
actly the right vein. His remarkable skill with 

^ the foils gave special interest to his duel with 
Laertes, and the fury and rapidity with which 
he dispatched the King were thrillingly dramatic. 
His death was princely, picturesque, and pathetic. 
In soliloquy he saw the pictorial and emotional 
rather than the intellectual side, and in such 

V passages Booth unquestionably surpassed him; 
but his impersonation as a whole, in its propor- 
tion and consistency and its peculiar power of 
personal fascination, was unique. 

In romance and melodrama — in such pieces as 
'^The Duke's Motto,'' ''Monte Cristo," and *'No 
Thoroughfare" — Fechter in his prime was facile 
princeps. It was as Armand Duval in ''La Dame 
aux Camelias" that he made his first great hit 
in Paris, by the ardor of his love-making and his 
electrical outburst in the ball scene. He repeated 
these effects, much later in life, in New York, 
when he was elderly, fat, and painfully unfitted 
for the part of a juvenile lover. At the London 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

Lyceum, in the sixties, lie was a model of grace, 
slim, lithe, and agile as a leopard. In action he 
was a picture. No one thought of the absurdities 
in **The Duke's Motto" when he was the Laga- 
dere. His sincerity and fire, the dash and sure- 
ness of his execution, the fervor of his wooing, 
his infinity of melodramatic resource, and his 
perfect control of every situation, carried absolute 
illusion with them. His first entrance as Lagadere, 
when he hurled himself into a group of ruffians, 
scattering them like a bomb-shell, and then, in a 
flash, stood with naked rapier in the center of 
the stage, with his military cloak on his left arm, 
ready for attack from any quarter, proclaimed 
him a hero of romance, equal to any hazard and 
preordained to triumph. And in all the crises 
of his subsequent adventures he bore himself 
with the same masterful authority, the same in- 
fallible precision of executive detail. 

He was no less fascinating as the pretended 
hunchback than he was as the gallant, ardent, 
fearless, and self-sacrificing Captain, and the 
swiftness and effectiveness of his transforma- 
tions proved the extent of his technical skill and 
his histrionic adaptability. It is a mere truism 
to say that he held his audiences spellbound. Of 
course *'The Duke's Motto," regarded as litera- 
ture or drama, was poor stuff. It had not even 

75 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

the value of a well-written fairy tale. But 
was wholesome in sentiment and, like other 
dred pieces, was capable of a sort of fictitioiii;| 
glorification by imaginative, ecstatic, and realistie '? 
acting. Herein is no contradiction in terms. Our 
modern advocates of the ** realistic'* drama, HiB 
drama that refiects actuality and nothing else^ 
denounce the romantic drama (which, by tli0 
way, includes ** Othello,'' ** Macbeth," ** Hamlet,'' 
**Lear," and ** Faust") as trivial, false, puerile, 
and unworthy of our advanced stage of cnltiva- 
tion. If this is true of some romantic it is true 
also of much of the realistic drama, including 
some of Ibsen. 

There is romance and romance, realism and 
realism, and, for myself, I believe that I can ap- 
preciate the best of either of them as well as any- 
body. But the point upon which I now wish to 
insist is that, in stage representation, realism and 
romance are closely akin. Romanticism upon the 
stage must be made to assume the present ap- 
pearance of realism, to bear the aspect of prob- 
ability and truth, before it can have any general 
public appeal or command critical approval. Be- 
yond question the great bulk of modem, unliter- 
ary, romantic drama is unadulterated bosh. But 
even second-rate romantic melodrama of the tyi>e 
of **The Duke's Motto" may be dignified and 

76 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

acquire a large measure of artistic and dramatic 
value in representation by properly qualified 
actors. Romance is exaggeration, and to convey 
illusion in the theater it must be acted — ^para- 
doxical as it may appear — in an artificial and 
exaggerated style to disguise the contrast be- 
tween its happenings and those of every-day 
human experience. The actors, in other words, 
must comport themselves in accordance with the 
spirit of the fanciful prescribed circumstances. 

And this they can not do without special train- 
ing and a certain amount of special capacity. 
Our contemporary actors certainly have not the 
one, even if they have the other, and that is why 
romance can not now be made to succeed. Con- 
ditions seem to be changing, and perhaps we are 
on the road to its successful revival. Fechter 
had the special capacity, or genius, which enabled 
hun, as it were, to establish the incredible by cir- 
cumstantial evidence, and he had a group of 
players — Jordan, Widdicomb, Sam Emery, Kate 
Terry, and others scarcely inferior — ^who gave 
him the ablest support. He made *^The Duke's 
Motto" and other plays of the same caliber, such 
as *^Bel Demonio," famous during his dazzling 
career, but no other player has been able to dupli- 
cate his success in them, though many have tried. 
His great achievement was his illustration of 

77 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

the art of romantic acting and its power to 
invest even inferior work with noble and inspir- 
ing attributes. 

It is not necessary to dwell at length upon his 
various romantic characters, upon his Armand, 
Claude Melnotte, Count of Monte Cristo, Edgar 
of Ravenswood (in **The Bride of Lanmier- 
moor'*), Louis and Fabien di Franchi (in **The 
Corsican Brothers'*), Belphegor (**The Mounte- 
bank'*), Macaire, and the rest. He succeeded in 
all of them because he vitalized them with this 
romantic glamor, which was the direct result of 
his personality, his temperament, and his efflores- 
cent artistic style. His *' business" in old parts 
was seldom new, but it was executed with a 
superior finish and a more conclusive air. Some- 
times, indeed, he introduced some startling 
stroke, as in '* Macaire.** When shot, as he 
reached the top of the stairway by which he was 
trying to escape, he fell headlong backward down 
the whole flight, a feat which only a most accom- 
plished athlete could venture upon without en- 
dangering his neck. But his performance of the 
Swiss, Jules Obenreizer, in ''No Thoroughfare,** 
was in a somewhat different category. This was 
a veritable creation, in which cunning, cruelty, 
and treachery, lurking beneath a suave and in- 
gratiating exterior, were indicated with copsum- 

78 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

mate art. The evil, romantic glamor with which 
this super-scoundrel was invested raised this 
embodiment far above the level of the ordinary 
but effective melodramatic stuff by which it was 
surrounded. The tigerish stealth and ferocity 
exhibited in his attempted assassination of the 
sleeping Vendale was terrifying. He played this 
part afterward in New York, where he extin- 
guished the memory of that admirable actor, W. 
J. Florence, in the same part simply because he 
added the emphasis of romantic spirit and action 
to realistic detail. 

His Othello was a bit of picturesque, passion- 
ate, over-sentimentalized melodrama, neither 
grand nor tragic, but his lago was an excellent 
piece of work. For his Shakespearean campaign 
at the Lyceum he offered Phelps an engagement, 
asking him whether he would play the Ghost in 
**Hamlet." *'Who is to play the Prince!" said 
the gruff old hero of The Wells. *' Myself,'' was 
the reply. *'Well, damn your impudence!" 
roared Phelps, and the negotiations ended then 
and there. All the old-school actors and critics 
deemed impudence an integral part of Fechter's 
artistic composition. The man had his weak- 
nesses, and paid the bitter penalty of them in 
full, but he was a genius. 



79 



V / 



VI 



THE STAGE IN NEW YORK IN 1870 

In retrospect many figures of sterling plaj 
present themselves to the mind's eye. ' 
stage was the poorer when Elate Terry — el 
sister of the more illustrious Ellen — ^who sha 
in several of Fechter's early triumphs, noLan 
and retired into private life. She was less gii 
with radiant charm and personal witchery t 
her sister, but was a graceful and attraci 
maiden and an actress of sound training . 
marked natural ability. The heroines of Fecht 
romances she played with infinite refinem< 
piquancy, and fervor, and no small emotic 
force. Success attended her in Juliet . 
Ophelia, but as the fair Capulet she was edip 
by Stella Colas and Neilson. She left the st 
when she seemed to be assured of a brilli 
future. Not long ago, after the lapse of m 
years, she reappeared before the footlights, 
widow, she hoped to lend distinction to the di 
of her daughter, E^ate Terry Lewis, and, \ 
haps, to take up the broken thread of her ( 

80 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

career. But her experiment was a failure. The 
source of her former inspiration, long untended, 
had run dry. 

Stella Colas was a comet who blazed for a 
season in the theatrical firmament and then van- 
ished. She married well and still lives (1916), 
rich and honored, in Europe. Her Juliet set all 
the critics by the ears and crowded the theater to 
the roof. Some of them discovered in her the 
perfect paragon, a histrionic nonpareil; others 
proclaimed her a clever novice whose tragic fits 
consisted chiefly of inarticulate rant. That her 
English was broken and occasionally indistinct 
—that here and there, but very rarely, a phrase 
was unintelligible to persons not conversant with 
the text — can not be denied. But these blem- 
ishes, to my mind, were inconsiderable in com- 
parison with the fascinating charm, the dominat- 
ing intelligence, and the emotional power of the 
whole impersonation. Physically, in her slim, 
bright, animated, innocent, girlish beauty, she 
was an ideal Juliet. In the balcony scene she was 
a vision of delight. She distilled all the fragrant 
essences of that marvelous conception and 
blended them all into one exquisite manifestation 
of innocent rapture. In the bedroom scene she 
rose to a pitch of frenzied, anticipatory horror 
which was thrilling. Her whole being was 

81 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

-wrenched and racked in a paroxysm of mingled 
terror and desperation. 

Old John Eyder was a typical specimen of the 
* ^legitimate * * actor. There was no flash of in- 
spiration in him, but he conld act anything and 
act it well, while in all matters of stage practice 
and tradition he was an unimpeachable authority. 
He was a large, heavy, dignified man, who had 
been reared in the Kemble and Macready school 
and, perhaps unconsciously, imitated the manner 
of the great John Philip. His declamation was 
fastidiously correct and charged with sonorous 
music. So far as I can remember, I only saw him 
act once, though I often encountered him off the 
stage — and that was in the old melodrama **The 
Miller and His Men,'' in which he was tre- 
mendous. Then there was Hermann Vezin, the 
American actor, who passed the greater part of 
his long life in England and was regarded as one 
of the ablest actors and most accomplished artists 
in the profession. No question was ever raised 
about his all-around ability, but he bore the un- 
fortunate reputation of being an unlucky man« 
There were whispers in theatrical haunts that 
he had **the evil eye.'' The superstitions of the 
stage folk constitute a pregnant comment upon 
their general intelligence. It is certain that, 
through no fault or delinquency of his own, he was 

82 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

associated with a great number of theatrical dis- 
asters and forlorn hopes. But he was in great 
request as a stage manager and teacher and was 
a recognized scholar. In comparatively recent 
days, when Irving fell sick it was Hermann Vezin 
who was called upon in the emergency to fill his 
place as Macbeth, and he did it so effectually that 
many persons thought the performance improved 
by his participation. I remember a notable per- 
formance by him, with Bandmann, in * * The Right- 
ful Heir*' of Bulwer-Lytton, a piece long since 
forgotten. Henry Compton made a hit in a bur- 
lesque of it called ''The Frightful Hair.** 

Vezin married Mrs. Charles Young, an actress 
of wide range, who assuredly would have been 
accepted as a star of the first magnitude to-day. 
She won her place, not by beauty or by adver- 
tisement, but by sheer ability. I saw her as the 
Lady in ''Comus,*' Lady Teazle, and Cordelia, 
among other parts, and she was admirable in all. 
Mr. and Mrs. John Billington were pillars of Ben 
Webster *s company at the Adelphi for years and 
bore prominent parts in a wide variety of plays. 
Mrs. Billington survives in London (at the pres- 
ent writing), a respected nonagenarian. She was 
a contemporary of the Keeleys. Neither Fred 
Bobson nor Walter Montgomery belonged to the 
older school of actors, but they must not be en- 

83 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

tirely overlooked. Eobson undoubtedly had some 
special gifts, but I very much doubt his posses- 
sion of real genius. I saw him in '*The Porter's 
Knot'' and in the burlesque of *' Medea." I real- 
ized the potent, homely pathos of the first and 
the genuine humor and startling mock passion of 
the other, but it did not seem to me that he was 
unique in either characterization.. I was young 
then and my opinion may not be worth much, 
but the fact that he did not impress me very 
deeply in those impressionable days has its sig- 
nificance. I should rank him with Harry Beckett 
or Dominick Murray — or perhaps just a little 
higher — ^both of whom were capable of very 
striking outbursts of cowardly or venomous pas- 
sion. Such demonstrations do not necessarily 
indicate genius, especially when there is a model 
to copy from. Cissy Loftus gives a capital imi- 
tation of one of Sarah Bernhardt 's torrential 
outbursts in '*Phedre." 

Walter Montgomery, the young American 
actor who committed suicide in such tragic cir- 
cumstances when his star was rising very brightly 
upon the theatrical horizon, must not be alto- 
gether forgotten. There is every reason to be- 
lieve that he was on the high road to fame and 
fortune. Nature had bestowed upon him a strik- 
ing and virile personality, high ambition, energy, 

81 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

and keen dramatic intelligence. His one handi- 
cap was a somewhat throaty and unmusical enun- 
ciation. But his voice was strong, his carriage 
gaUanty and his gesture bold and free. He had 
fire, sentiment, and pathos. His Claude Melnotte, 
less pictorial, sentimental, and romantic than 
Fechter's, was admirable both in its boyish ardor 
and its despairing passion. In Hotspur he was 
the embodiment of choleric impatience and fierce 
martial spirit, held partly in check by rough 
geniality. He was **impiger, iracundus, in- 
exorabilis, acer," impetuous, irritable, stubborn, 
and prickly. It was a brilliant performance. He 
was equally effective in the easier character of 
Palconbridge and played King John with in- 
telligent comprehension, although in subtlety and 
finish, of course, his impersonation was far in- 
ferior to that of Phelps. But it was better than 
Mantell's and he was only a beginner. With 
liim let me close these English reminiscences. I 
was in New York when he killed himself, the vic- 
tim of a terrible disillusionment. 

It was in the middle of November, 1869, that 
I first landed in New York, and accident ordained 
that on the evening of the same day I should go 
to the theater. The house was Niblo's Garden, 
long since vanished, where Lotta Crabtree was 
acting Little Nell and the Marchioness in one of 

85 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

the vilest of the many vile misrepresentations of 
Dickens. Like Lydia Thompson, the heroine of 
my earliest English dramatic experience, she was 
a typical product of her period. Here, as in the 
mother country, the old order of the stage was 
quickly passing away; the higher drama, both 
tragic and comic, was falling into deeper disre- 
pute for lack of adequate interpreters, and the 
boards were more and more fully occupied by 
modem domestic or ** social* farce or melodrama 
of no literary or dramatic consequence, even when 
entertaining; by pieces purely spectacular or 
sensational, by adaptations from the French, by 
burlesque — which, however, had not then sunk to 
its present depths of degradation — and by all 
kinds of freakish and acrobatic frivolity. Negro 
minstrelsy was still in its heyday, offering real 
melody and a humor that was often genuine if 
always grotesque. It had not yet been revolu- 
tionized and ruined by the *'mastodonic" notions 
of Jack Haverly. 

Burton, Blake, Murdoch, J. K. Hackett, J. B. 
Booth, G. V. Brooke, J. W. Wallack, and other 
players of the first rank were dead or in retire- 
ment. Edwin Forrest, diseased and enfeebled, 
though still potent in **Lear'' and ** Richelieu," 
was nearing his end. Charlotte Cushman was 
meditating her final farewell, Edwin Booth had 

66 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

not reissued from temporary eclipse. A few stock 
companies still existed, notably those at Wal- 
lack's in New York, Mrs. John Drew's Chestnut 
Street Theater in Philadelphia, and the Boston 
Museum. But these were in process of decay, 
unable to make head against the trend of the 
times and the changing principles of manage- 
ment. 

The days of trusts and syndicates were yet to 
come, but these beneficent institutions, pro- 
fessedly organized, like all other monopolies of 
the sort, for the benefit of the public, were but 
natural developments of the star and circuit sys- 
tems already pretty well established. The **star'' 
system, enabling speculative managers to dis- 
pense with expensive companies and to offer to 
the public the alternative of paying for represen- 
tations by one fairly capable actor ** supported'' 
by a parcel of supernumeraries, or going without 
the theater altogether, was the beginning of all 
the mischief. When a group of speculators once 
conceived the idea of securing all the theaters 
and thus becoming virtual dictators of all theat- 
rical policies — to the extinction of competition — 
the mischief was completed. One by one the 
stock companies — the only real schools of acting 
— were extirpated, until to-day (1900) there is 
scarcely one worthy of the name in existence in 

87 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

this country. Fortunately there is reason for be- 
lieving that this condition may not be permanent. 

So long as the supply of well-equipped actors, 
trained after the ancient method, lasted it was 
possible to find leading performers who without 
any very gross flattery might be described as 
stars when compared with their associates. But 
this source was exhausted long ago. At any rate 
they were actors of the first class, if not always 
at the head of it. None of them has had a suc- 
cessor. There is not on the American stage to- 
day one solitary performer, male or female, of 
native origin, who is capable of first-dass work 
in either the tragic or comic department of the 
literary imaginative drama. In modem drama 
we have some excellent performers, but even in 
this no great one. Why is this T It is because the 
wells of histrionic talent have been choked. As I 
have said before, there are indications that they 
may before long be reopened. Already there is 
a group of rising young English actors of both 
sexes likely to do big things in big drama in the 
near future. Where do they come from! Almost 
without exception from the stock company of F. 
R. Benson. 

But to get back to Lotta and reminiscence. Of 
no artistic importance in herself, a theatrical 
will-o *-the-wisp, she was yet a striking illustra- 

88 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

f^ tion — as were Maggie Mitchell, Minnie Palmer, 
and others of their type — of the slender pro- 
fessional capital with which popularity and for- 
tune may be won before the footlights in a de- 
generate age. She was an attractive little crea- 
ture with a pretty, saucy face, a fairy figure, and 
wonderful agility. It was in the far West — in 
a mining camp, I believe — ^that she first charmed 
rough audiences by her dancing, banjo-playing, 
and singing. She attracted the attention of some 
theatrical agent on the lookout for a novelty, 
was diligently and successfully paragraphed, 
brought East, and introduced as a prodigy of 
humor and pathos. She was a bright and piquant 
morsel, prankish, audacious, with a pleasant 
aroma of girlish innocence about her, and she 
** caught on." For years the public adored her. 
She appeared in many parts and played them all 
in exactly the same way. She never developed 
or suggested any real dramatic force or adapta- 
bility. Her Marchioness was an amusing figure 
in its dirt and rags and childish make-believe, 
but was informed by no vestige of the Dickens 
spirit, while the so-called pathos of her Little 
Nell was the emptiest and dreariest of affecta- 
tion. But she had splendid press notices, as if 
she were a luminary of purest ray serene. Mod- 
em press criticism has a good deal to answer for. 

89 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

I have had a share in it for forty years and do 
not wish to shirk my own responsibilities. As 
I look over my old notes I realize that I have 
written some fearful rubbish. I hope now that 
I have learned to temper the heat of juvenile en- 
thusiasm in the cold bath of experience. 



90 



f 



vn 

Wallace's in the days op john gilbert 

Between 1870 and 1874 my theatrical oppor- 
tunities were but few. I had a glimpse of Forrest 
— on the platform, not on the stage. I saw Salvini 
(to whom I shall return presently) in several of 
his greatest parts when he first visited this 
country with the Italian company which included 
Piamonti; I heard Wambold, the sweet tenor of 
the old San Francisco Minstrels, sing; I mar- 
veled at the scenic glories and the unutterable 
stupidity of ''The Black Crook'' (it is said that 
no word of the original dialogue was retained and 
that the author, Barras, reaped a fortune out of 
his copyright in the title only) ; I attended a 
variety of burlesques, including ''Kenil worth,'* 
with Lydia Thompson as Leicester (I think) and 
Harry Beckett as an extraordinarily comic Eliza- 
beth (I know), and I saw some modern plays and 
melodramas, mostly of indifferent quality — on 
the whole, a poor ha'porth of bread to an intoler- 
able quantity of sack. But in the latter year I 
first undertook the task of a dramatic writer, and 
from that time up to the present I have seen 

91 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

pretty nearly everything in the New York theati 
rical world worth seeing and much that was not| 
Moreover, my records are tolerably complete 
It is my purpose, in these papers, to cull froi 
them such matter as I hope may prove interest- 
ing and fresh to the present generation, dealing' 
with the period between 1874 and 1885 — remem- 
bered only by the elders — and dwelling only upon 
salient features, personages, and incidents. 

This was the period of the gradual decline of 
Wallack's, which for many years had been gen- 
erally recognized as the leading comedy theater 
in the country. In 1874 its prestige stood as 
high as ever and the company, even after the loss 
of such players as J. W. Wallack, Madeleine Hen- 
riques, Mrs. John Hoey, Mary Gannon, Charles 
Fisher, and other notabilities, was not percepti- 
bly weakened. It included among others Lester 
Wallack, John Gilbert, W. R. Floyd, Madame 
Ponisi, H. J. Montague, Ada Dyas, lone Burke, 
J. W. Carroll, J. B. Polk, Harry Beckett, Edward 
Arnott, EflSe Germon, Mrs. Sefton, and E. M. 
Holland, a list which, in its assurance of general 
eflSciency in both old and modem comedy, it 
would indeed be diflBcult if not impossible to 
parallel to-day. Old playgoers of that time used 
to complain that in its representations of 
standard comedy the theater had deteriorated in 

92 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

style and spirit, and this may have been true- 



probably was, as the younger members of the 
company never had the advantages of the stock 
training enjoyed by the veterans; but the ex- 
perience of the latter, with the traditions and 
discipline of the house, combined to remedy or 
conceal such deficiencies. 

In any case it is certain that no such adequate 
interpretations of artificial comedy have been 
given in this neighborhood since the Wallack 
organization was dissolved. To all the require- 
ments of the modern drama it was fully equal, 
and it had during the ten years under considera- 
tion much modern work to do. As a matter of 
actual count, three-fifths of the performances 
given were modem stuff, and more than one-fifth 
exceedingly unworthy modern stuff. Flaunting, 
brazen melodrama, pieces like ^* Youth,'' ^*The 
World,'' and '* Spellbound, " and hilarious im- 
proprieties such as ** Forbidden Fruit," found 
their way to the honored stage of Wallack 's only 
too often in later days. In common justice it 
should be added that they were, as a rule, admir- 
ably acted. Many of the modern plays, of course, 
were of a superior order. Two of them brought 
prosperity to the theater in 1874-5. These were 
**The Romance of a Poor Young Man" — in which 
H. J. Montague made his first decided hit in New 

93 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

York, and J. W. Carroll furnished a very strik- 
ing impersonation of the old privateersman— and 
''The Shaughraun, ' ' one of the best of Dion 
Boucicault's Irish dramas and completely charac- 
teristic of his methods. This latter piece proved 
one of the biggest financial successes recorded in 
theatrical annals. It packed the house for many 
months. Some of its popularity, especially in 
the galleries, was due doubtless to its artful ap- 
peal to the Irish patriotic spirit, which is **ag*in' 
the government.** Fenianism then was more 
rampant in New York than in Ireland itself. 

The play was theatrical patchwork, but the 
arrangement and joinery were neat and skilful 
and some of the stage effects ingenious and strik- 
ing. Several of the personages, if unoriginal, 
were thoroughly human and alive. John Gilbert 
played a parish priest with a rare blend of genial 
benevolence, authority, tenderness, and pathos. 
Ada Dyas, a most capable actress, as the patriotic 
heroine in love with the British officer who was 
hunting her Fenian brother, furnished an ex- 
ceedingly clever sketch of wayward, passionate, 
and perplexed girlhood. Harry Beckett, one of 
the many capable actors produced in the school 
of burlesque, made a sensation with his exhibi- 
tion of frenzied cowardice in the part of the 
wretched traitor, Harvey Duff, while H. J. Mon- 

94 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

tsLgaey Edward Amott, and J. B. Polk did ex- 
cellent work in other prominent characters. For 
himself Dion had devised, not created, a charac- 
ter in Conn, the Shaughrann, which fitted him 
like a glove. A humorous, reckless, loyal, and 
mischievous scapegrace, he brought life and 
laughter, with now and then a dash of pathos, 
into every scene. He had prepared a variation 
of Lady Gay Spanker's fox-hunting speech which 
he delivered with sparkling vivacity. The great 
flaw in the play was a **wake'' scene, which was 
devoid of truth and good taste, though full of the 
primitive bumpkin jokes which may be depended 
upon to set the galleries in a roar. 

That was Dion Boucicault all over. He had 
artistic instincts and ambitions, but a vision of 
**good business** could blind him to all sense of 
fitness and proportion. He was not often, how- 
ever, guilty of such a blunder in theatrical tactics 
as when he persuaded Lester Wallack to produce 
his ''Rafael,'* an adaptation which he had made 
of that sultry French piece, ''Les Filles de 
Marbre,** with Ada Dyas as the enchanting, 
frigid, and pitiless Marco and the fragile H. J. 
Montague, of all men in the world, as the victim 
of devastating passion. It would have been diflS- 
cult to find two actors more utterly unfitted by 
nature for the parts assigned to them. The ex- 

95 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

periment, of course, was a disastrons faili 
Few phenomena are more puzzling to the oi 
nary lay observer than the constant inabilily 
experienced actors and managers to realize, 
at rehearsal, the radical defects in a new play 
the manifest incompatibility between it and 
capacity of the selected players. 

This experiment had one agreeable ooi 
quence. It induced Mr. Wallack to fall back u] 
legitimate comedy, of which, in New York, he 
had a virtual monopoly. He began with a revival 
of Holcroft's ''The Boad to Ruin,*' surrendei 
his own part of Young Dornton, in which he 
in his younger days particularly successful, 
H. J. Montague, for whom he entertained a 
personal aflfection. This, as it proved, was 
unfortunate decision, for Montague, an attractive 
and very clever actor in light comedy of the 
Robertsonian order, was out of his element in 
parts requiring a more distinguished and virile 
style and robuster emotion. He was one of the 
weak spots in an otherwise capable and spirited 
representation. There seems to be no present 
likelihood of this sterling old piece revisiting the 
glimpses of the moon, more's the pity. It is old- 
fashioned in manner, of course, but it is full of 
vigorous characterization, amusing and moving 
incident, and of humor that is true and honest 

96 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

if in places a trifle broad, while it enforces a 
wholesome moral without too much sermonizing. 
In illustrating the influences of heredity and en- 
vironment it is modem and scientific. But mod- 
em actors inevitably would make a sad hash of 
it. The Wallack company knew how to give it 
snap and go. John Gilbert, the most famous of 
"old men*' for almost two generations, was a 
tower of strength in it. His Old Domton was 
among his most notable creations — comparable 
with his Sir Harcourt Courtly, his Sir Peter 
Teazle, and his Sir Anthony Absolute — an ideal 
portrait of a substantial old English merchant, 
dignified, urbane, and genial, weak only in his 
doting aflfection for his prodigal son. The fin- 
ished art with which he portrayed the internal 
struggle between his natural indignation at his 
son's follies and his paternal devotion was a 
triumph of emotional analysis. In the scene 
when, in a melting mood after a passionate out- 
break, he refuses to say *' good-night" to the 
wayward youth, the pathos of his outraged but 
pitying love was irresistible. He was perfect in 
an embodiment of this kind, not because it was 
suited to his personality or because he had made 
a specialty of *'old men'' (though he was forced to 
do so by his unrivaled excellence in such charac- 
terizations), but because in his youth he had 

97 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

been drilled thoroughly in every department of 
the drama, including high tragedy, had mastered 
every nuance of the spoken word and every 
mystery of stage technique. In other words, he 
was a finished actor. 

Madame Ponisi, another graduate of the stock- 
company system, was an invaluable member of 
the Wallack company. In stage knowledge she was 
almost the equal of Gilbert himself, though far 
behind him in special ability. If seldom brilliant, 
she was always thoroughly intelligent and com- 
petent. In her time she had played many of the 
principal tragic and comic characters of Shake- 
speare. She was a sound and impressive Lady 
Macbeth, was admirable in the old women of 
artificial comedy, as the aristocratic dames of mod- 
em social drama, in domestic plays, farce or melo- 
drama. In **The Koad to Ruin'' she enacted the 
Widow Warren in exactly the right vein of full- 
blooded humor. And Harry Beckett's Goldfinch, 
though it had more rollicking fun than artistic 
cunning in it, was a most effective performance. 
Burlesque may be a most eflScient school for the 
development of comic invention and significant 
pantomime in a young actor gifted with comic 
intuition. The contrast between Silky and Sulky 
was capitally emphasized by E. M. Holland and 
J, W. Carroll, the former player even in those 

98 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

days showing much of the careful finish that was 
to distinguish his later work. The general repre- 
sentation was clothed with an appropriate atmos- 
phere and spirit, the only inharmonious detail 
in the scheme being the anemic Young Domton 
of Montague. 

**The Boad to Ruin'* was followed after a 
short interval by **The Rivals. '^ I propose as 
a matter of convenience to speak of these old 
comedy revivals in their order, without regard to 
intervening pieces, of which the principal will 
be referred to later on. In **The Rivals,'* of 
course, Mr. Gilbert was supreme. His Sir 
Anthony has never been equalled anywhere in the 
last half century, or approached except by Chip- 
pendale, William Warren, and Samuel Phelps. 
It is not necessary to expatiate upon it now, 
since it has been the subject of innumerable 
eulogies and is still within the memory of all 
but the younger playgoers. To the eye it pre- 
sented a perfect realization of unreasoning abso- 
lutism. An imperious, quick, and fiery temper 
was revealed in the aggressive glances of the 
eyes, the stubborn set of the features, the heavy, 
determined step, the ready menace in the swing 
of the heavy cane, in every note of the resolute, 
clear-cut voice. The apoplectic fury of its sud- 
den cholers would have been terrifying if it had 

99 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

not been for the humorous eflfect of them, and 
volcanic as these explosions were, they were yet 
governed by the nicest sense of proportion and 
emphasis. 

His executive skill was so sure that there was 
no suggestion of the artistic calculation by which 
it was directed. Many comedians — ^William H. 
Crane, for instance — ^have the gift of choler, but 
one of their outbursts is just like another. Gil- 
bert's were diversified by all manner of subtle 
gradations. In every detail his Sir Anthony was 
alive — a marvel of vital consistency. W. R. 
Floyd, another of the trained veterans, was 
scarcely second to John Brougham himself in the 
part of Sir Lucius. His impersonation was not 
quite so mellow, perhaps, as that of the famous 
Irishman, but it was a delightful sketch, brisk, 
gay, gallant, and altogether Hibernian. Madame 
Ponisi was as good a Mrs. Malaprop as any one 
could reasonably wish to see, though Mrs. John 
Drew brought to the part a more elaborate affec- 
tation and more incisive speech. Edward Amott 
conferred upon Jack Absolute the virility which 
Montague lacked, while Ada Dyas found in Lydia 
Languish a character well suited to her style and 
temperament. 

It was in 1876 that Lester Wallack, after a 
lapse of six years, revived Mrs. Centlivre's com- 

100 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

edy, **The Wonder/^ reappearing himself in the 
character of Don Felix, a character in which he 
had always appeared to advantage. He was 
essentially a romantic actor as well as an accom- 
plished comedian, and the romantic coloring with 
which he decorated much of his work imparted a 
special charm to his Benedick and kindred parts. 
I should hesitate to place him among the ''great'' 
actors, for his range was not wide and he had no 
eloquence in the profounder emotions, .but what 
he did do, in his own proper sphere of romance 
and comedy, he did preeminently well. Nature 
had been very bounteous to him. With his raven 
locks and flashing dark eyes, his fine figure and 
superb carriage, he was one of the handsomest 
men of his time, and naturally he was adored by 
the fair sex. 

There was no suspicion of effeminate dandyism 
about him. His temperament was indisputably 
virile and all his embodiments had a most at- 
tractive manliness. He could be a fervent and 
fascinating but not a passionate lover. He could 
never have given a good performance of Romeo, 
Armand Duval, or Claude Melnotte ; nor could he 
express profound pathos, although he could upon 
occasion be sympathetic and affecting, but as the 
man of cool resource and prompt action, in all 
the lighter moods of gayety and cynical Jevity, 

101 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

and in the attributes of the man of the world, he 
was brilliantly eflScient, acting with authoritative 
ease, grace, and spontaneity. In this revival his 
Don Felix, if slightly more mature than in earlier 
years, had lost none of its animation or serio- 
comic force. He revelled in the drunken scene 
with Don Pedro and was equally dexterous and 
amusing in the quarrel scenes with Violante. 
Whenever he was upon the stage he carried the 
action along to the grateful accompaniment of 
appreciative laughter. But the representation 
was not as successful as some of its predecessors. 
John Gilbert *s study of the foolish, senile Don 
Pedro was a gem. Harry Beckett was very funny 
as the servant Lissardo, and W. R. Floyd as Col. 
Britton made a hit with the recital of his love 
adventures; but Ada Dyas was a cold and unin- 
teresting Violante, and other parts were in- 
effective in the hands of new and inexperienced 
actors. But it was significant that the old-time 
actors *' played up'* in spite of the handicap to 
which they were subjected. 

The ''Wild Oats'' of O'Keefe (revived in 1877) 
presents fewer difficulties than ''The Wonder" 
and was presented with a happier cast. It is a 
less artificial piece, rough in construction, not too 
probable, but full of incident, bold characteriza- 
tion, and sturdy humor. O'Keefe painted with 

102 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

broad sweeps of a full brush. The fact that his 
personages are types which long ago became con- 
ventional and are now obsolete is a good reason 
why they should be preserved upon the stage as 
a matter of record. They are amusing if not 
altogether credible. They seemed plausible 
enough as they were presented thirty-five years 
ago at Wallack^s, but unluckily we no longer 
have any John Gilbert or Lester Wallack, not 
to speak of supporting casts. The part of Rover, 
the magnanimous, reckless vagabond, with the 
soul of a gentleman, the wits of an adventurer, 
and the purse of a pauper, was exactly suited to 
the artistic temperament of Lester Wallack. He 
delivered the innumerable quotations of the 
stroller with infinite gusto and travestied the 
mannerisms of famous actors, including some of 
his contemporaries, with much mimetic skill, in- 
cidentally making a fine display of his own ample 
histrionic resources. From first to last his acting 
was charged with mercurial spirit, but beneath 
all the audacious and sparkling levity he con- 
trived to suggest a foundation of honor and man- 
liness, more fully revealed in his brief periods 
of melancholy reflection. It was a notable piece 
of work, a striking instance of the power of 
artistic and imaginative acting to vitalize an 
artificial and illogical character. In taking 

103 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

liberties with nature the old dramatists doubt- 
less knew how far they could rely upon the ca- 
pacities of their interpreters. 

If O'Keefe had known John Gilbert, he could 
scarcely have conceived a character more to 
his liking than that of George Sir Thunder, 
a not much exaggerated type of the choleric, 
outspoken, hard-swearing post-captains of the 
Georgian era of the British navy. The old actor 
played it con amore, making the stage rever- 
berate with sound and fury. His wrath, while 
it lasted, was portentous; his assault upon the 
players was terrific. Between the squalls there 
were spells of sunny, genial weather. At bottom 
Thunder was a humorous and kindly old fellow, 
and to the elemental justice and generosity in 
him Gilbert gave delightful expression. There 
were other excellent bits of acting in this re- 
vival, among which the John Dory of Edward 
Arnott, the Ephraim Smooth of Beckett, and the 
Jenny Gammon of Effie Germon live in the mem- 
ory. To-day '^Wild Oats'' would be well-nigh 
impossible upon the stage, if only for the lack 
of a competent Rover. George Giddens could 
play Thunder. 



104 



vin 

MORE PLAYS AT WALLACE'S 

The ** Money'' of Bulwer-Lytton, if not an old, 
is at least an artificial comedy, and the excellence 
of its performance at Wallack's (1878) gave it 
a dignity which entitles it to mention in this 
place. After all, notwithstanding its affectations, 
preachments, and conventionalities, it is a work 
of rare ability. The part of Alfred Evelyn, of 
conrse, was written specially for Macready — who 
was a bit of a prig himself — and it is not diflScult 
to understand how Lytton, in trying to fit him, 
invested Evelyn with some of his traits and 
qualities. Lester Wallack's Evelyn, it is safe to 
say, did not in the least resemble Macready 's. 
He was not, as has been remarked, a very ver- 
satile, though a highly accomplished, actor. He 
interpreted every part in terms of his own per- 
sonality, and in his Evelyn there was more of 
the romantic than the intellectual. Whether a 
man of the type he presented would have adopted 
the course prescribed for him in the play may 
well be doubted. But his Evelyn was extremely 
interesting and attractive, vigorous, earnest, 

105 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

graceful, and brightly intelligent. He was a 
seductive wooer and a charming companion, and 
bore himself with manly dignity in his supposed 
adversity. His sarcasm was fluent, but did not 
always carry a deadly point. 

Picturesque in all externals, the impersonation 
lacked the distinction of intellectual power and 
purpose. But it was more human, perhaps, than 
the author's own ideal and was potent in the 
theater. John Gilbert, long an admirable repre- 
sentative of Stout, now played Sir John Vesey, 
whom he dignified with imposing carriage and 
manners, without slurring the baser elements in 
his nature. His anxiety in the gambling scene 
was comedy of the most finished kind. John 
Brougham played Stout with the most infectious 
humor. Beckett, from the artistic point of view, 
was a long, long way behind Charles Fisher (one 
of the old-school actors whose turn will come 
presently) in the character of Graves (of which 
Ben Webster was the original interpreter), but 
he was so excruciatingly funny in the scenes with 
Lady Franklin that he defied criticism. Madame 
Ponisi as Lady Franklin was inimitable. She 
was famous in it for years. Eose Coghlan, then 
in the full bloom of her youthful beauty, played 
Clara Douglas with rare charm and much wealth 
of womanly feeling, and H. J. Montague played 

106 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

the small part of Dudley Smooth with most mi- 
common tact and emphasis. W. R. Floyd was a 
capital Blomit and the minor parts were in per- 
fectly competent hands. As for the mounting 
and dressing, they were always good at Wal- 
lack ^8, but it is only when the acting is poor that 
these decorative details command consideration. 
In September, 1878, Mr. Wallack revived ''The 
School for Scandal,** and in so doing unfor- 
tunately lent the weight of his great authority to 
the pernicious practice of modernizing old plays, 
by following the example set by the Bancrofts at 
the London Haymarket. Condensation, of course, 
is excusable and often inevitable. Our ancestors 
were often prolix. But alterations, additions, and 
modifications of the scene plan are unjustifiable. 
An old play is an old play and ought to be given 
as nearly in its original shape as possible, for 
the sake of historical record, and as an illustra- 
tion of the changes effected by time in construc- 
tion and composition. In this particular instance 
it need not be pretended that much damage was 
done. The character of the play was not affected 
materially, and the interpretation, if not the 
best ever given in this house, was thoroughly 
worthy of it. But it may be noted incidentally, 
as an evidence that modernization does not neces- 
sarily mean elevation or expurgation, that the 

107 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

few gross passages in the text were carefully re- 
tained. Mr. Wallack, whose Charles Surface was 
accounted among his most successful stage crea- 
tionsy abandoned that character to Charles 
Coghlan, who proved the best representative of 
it known to modem times. His triumph in it was 
immediate and complete. Less hilarious and 
boisterous than most of its predecessors, his 
impersonation was sufficiently gay and debonair, 
but its dominating expression was one of lux- 
urious and improvident indolence and cynical 
amusement. The earlier scenes he played in a 
mood of partial intoxication. He was not in the 
least degree vulgarly drunk, but seemed en- 
veloped in a vinous haze. 

His rich costume was carelessly disarranged, 
his whole attitude was slothful, but observant, 
as if his excesses had begun to pall upon him and 
he needed some new fillip to give zest to the 
follies in which he was still eager to participate. 
His manners were perfect. Even in the frolic of 
the auction scene he carried himself with a 
natural arid distinctive elegance. A manifest, 
wilful, and prodigal scapegrace, he contrived, by 
many subtle little artistic touches, to suggest his 
possession of latent merits to justify the praises 
of Rowley. In his interview with Sir Peter in 
Joseph's library he was particularly happy; his 

108 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

quizzical, semi-serious rebuke of the guardian, 
who had turned inquisitor, his laughing but 
plainly truthful disavowal of the intrigues at- 
tributed to him, and his mischievous delight in 
the episode of the ** little milliner*' were in the 
best vein of high comedy, and in his mocking 
comments upon the revelation of the fallen 
screen, while gayly remorseless in his raillery of 
Lady Teazle and his brother, he exhibited a rare 
and delicate artistic perception in refraining 
from untimely mirth at the expense of the un- 
happy Sir Peter. Him he addressed in a tone of 
kindly humor not unmixed with compassion. 
This embodiment was, perhaps, Coghlan's most 
memorable achievement and must always rank 
high among the comic masterpieces of the theater. 
It was worthy in every way of John Gilbert's 
Sir Peter, which, like his Sir Anthony Absolute, 
is still too fresh in the public memory to require 
prolonged notice here. It was less courtly than 
Chippendale's, less *' peevish" and bitter than 
Phelps's, but more intensely human, perhaps, 
than either, while equally humorous. In this 
country, for many years, it was never ap- 
proached, except by that of William Warren, and 
that not nearly. It was rich in testy, querulous 
humor, in dry sarcasm, in generous impulse, and, 
as a bit of portraiture, was finished with the 

109 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

delicacy of a cameo. The Joseph of Charles 
Barron, an uninspired but intelligent and me- 
chanically correct actor, much admired in Boston, 
was hard and melodramatic. Madame Ponisi as 
Mrs. Candor was a model of superficial frankness 
veiling malevolent suggestion. W. R. Floyd and 
E. M. Holland were respectively excellent as 
Backbite and Crabtree, Harry Beckett an amus- 
ing but extravagant Moses, and Rose Goghlan 
a most bewitching Lady Teazle, especially in the 
early scenes and in the quarrel with Sir Peter. 
As a whole the representation was admirable in 
the celerity of its action, in proportion, and in 
atmosphere. 

A subsequent revival of *'The Road to Ruin,** 
inferior in some respects to the earlier one, was 
made notable by the Young Domton of Charles 
Coghlan. This was a trifle wooden and laborious 
in the earlier scenes, as if the actor were feeling 
his way, but afterward exhibited all the virile 
energy and warm, emotional coloring which were 
so markedly absent from the impersonation of 
H. J. Montague. He created enthusiasm by the 
breathless impetuosity of his appeal to Silky, the 
fine burst of rage which followed its refusal, and 
the despairing levity of his scene with the Widow 
Warren, where he had every assistance from 
Madame Ponisi. A little later Mr. Wallack put 

110 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

on ' ' The Jealous Wife, * ' a comedy of the younger 
Cobnan, which now appears to have fallen en- 
tirely into oblivion, to give Charles Coghlan an 
opportunity of acting Mr, Oakley. The experi- 
ment was only partly successful. On the English 
stage Oakley was represented as a middle-aged 
man. Phelps made of him a sort of companion 
picture to Sir Peter Teazle, acting in a spirit of 
broad . comedy. Coghlan presented him as a 
young man and tried to modernize him, acting 
with studious naturalness and restraint until the 
last act, which he interpreted with the broadest 
emphasis. The consequence was that he not only 
robbed the play of its proper atmosphere and 
proportion, but also of most of its somewhat 
primitive humor. He made the climax effective 
enough when he came to it, but at the expense of 
the rest of the representation, which was in- 
disputably dull, not altogether through Colman's 
fault. Phelps kept his audience laughing from 
first to last. Eose Coghlan was a fascinating 
and spirited Mrs. Oakley, but endowed that 
diflBcult lady with too shrewish a disposition and 
a dash of malice that is not appropriate to her. 
She really loved her husband, and her jealousy 
originated solely in genuine misconception. 

In March, 1880, Lester Wallack, after many 
years' interval, reappeared in a part that had 

111 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

been one of his youthful successes, Jack Wilding 
in Footers old comedy, **The Liar/* The piece 
is not very precious, but it provided him with 
some brilliant opportunities. Physically he was 
far too mature and heavy for the character of 
the gay and mendacious young student, but his 
art enabled him to maintain the illusion of youth 
by vigor and grace of movement and an inces- 
sant flow of animal spirits. He rattled through 
the first act with magnificent vivacity, uttering 
his fabrications with a glibness and apparent 
sincerity calculated to deceive even the elect. 
And his comic perplexity and distress in the 
second act, when his lies, like chickens, came 
home to roost, were delicious. For the moment 
he made the preposterous farce entirely plausible. 
But then he had John Gilbert, whose Old Wild- 
ing was another perfect example of peppery 
humor, to back him, and Ada Dyas, whose cold, 
polished, sparkling, but utterly passionless style 
was exactly adapted to the part of Miss 
Grantham. There need be no lamentation over 
the disappearance of **The Liar'' from the stage, 
for it has no substantial literary or dramatic 
value, and there are no longer any actors capable 
of giving to any of these three characters the 
artificial brilliancy without which they would ap- 
pear to modern eyes unlifelike and conventionaL 

112 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

The inferiority of the modern actor, untrained 
in the old schooling, was strikingly manifested in 
the production of **As You Like If at Wallack's 
in October, 1880. The lovely comedy was pre- 
sented in sumptuous fashion, but with a minimum 
of poetic illusion. A new leading man, Osmund 
Tearle — an English actor who died a year or two 
ago in England, where he enjoyed a fair Shake- 
spearean reputation in the provinces — ^was the 
Jacques. He was, in 1880, by no means a bad 
performer of the modern school. He had in- 
telligence, a good presence and voice, but neither 
dignity nor depth. His Jacques was Victorian, 
demonstrative, and shallow. In the ** Seven 
Ages^' speech he won the applause of the gallery 
by ingenious vocal variations and elaborate 
mimetic gesture, which might have passed muster 
in the '* Queen Mab" speech of Mercutio, but 
were abominably inappropriate in the case of 
this philosophical and misanthropic dreamer 
among the deer in the woods of Arden. Another 
new English actor, John Pitt, a big, manly man, 
was an attractive Orlando to look at, and acted 
the part fluently, vigorously, and with mechanical 
accuracy, but without the least glamor of ro- 
mantic spirit, while his reading was hard and 
monotonous. He was as much out of his proper 
element as a swan upon a turnpike road. William 

113 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Elton, the new low comedian of the company— 
who was to do much admirable work afterward— 
was one of the many clever graduates from bur- 
lesque, and interpreted Touchstone after the bur- 
lesque method. He provoked plenty of the 
laughter which is so dear to the box-office, bul 
vulgarized the part hopelessly. Rose Coghlan's 
Rosalind — to become a notable impersonation 
in later years — ^had brilliancy and charm, glit- 
tered with archness and spirit in masquerade, 
but was deficient in poetic imagination and 
nobility and tenderness of feminine spirit. The 
only characters to satisfy fully the Shakespearean 
conception were the Adam of Mr. Gilbert— 
thoroughly emblematic of simple, natural dignity, 
stanch loyalty, and pathetic affection — and the 
Banished Duke of Harry Edwards, another well- 
trained actor — a competent embodiment in every 
way. The glory was already beginning to deparl 
from Israel. 

This melancholy fact received additional con- 
firmation in the revival of **She Stoops to Con- 
quer" in May, 1884, when the low comedy of 
Tony Lumpkin was converted into mere buf- 
foonery by Frank Howson, and Louise Moodie 
proved completely inadequate to the part of Misa 
Hardcastle. But all shortcomings — and they 
were many and painful — were forgotten in the 

114 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

enjoyment of the Charles Marlow of Lester Wal- 
lack, and the Hardcastles as played by John 
Gilbert and Madame Ponisi. Wallack could no 
longer look the part, but he played it inimitably, 
with the choicest mixture of cool, elegant effront- 
ery and demoralized bashfulness. As for the 
Old Hardcastle of John Gilbert, it was one of 
those creations which, once seen, live for ever in 
the memory. I can see him now as he sat at the 
table, with his arm thrown protectingly around 
the flagon which he was determined to defend 
against the combined assaults of his two incom- 
prehensible guests, his face a mirror of complex 
emotions, amusement, bewilderment, and a rising 
indignation checked by courtesy and hospitable 
impulse. Madame Ponisi was no less natural or 
artistic as the silly, motherly, quick-tempered, 
and credulous Mrs. Hardcastle. Truly these old 
players were artists who knew their business; 
and wide is the gulf between their sure and 
varied artistry and the accomplishment of modern 
mummers, who^e one specialty is in the mon- 
otonous repetition of themselves. 

These old comedy revivals were the brightest 
features in the history of Wallack 's during the 
period 1874-1884. By them the prestige of the 
house was maintained, and it was in them that 
the best qualities of the company were revealed. 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

It is impossible now to refer particularly to 
forty or fifty modem plays produced during 
same time, nor would it be highly proi 
There were, of course, some notable as well :j 
many inconsiderable representations. Of 
former a few may be recalled. A notably fioiij 
production of ''Caste'' was given in 1875, when^ 
George Honey, once a famous operatic bi 
appeared as Eccles, filling him with a wondei 
brand of liquorish humor. A more unlovely or 
more truthful study of a sodden British pot- 
house ranting radical could not easily be imag- 
ined, but it was extraordinarily funny and, with 
all its broad strokes, a finished bit of artistry. 
His grotesque rage at the refusal of his daughter 
to receive the alms of her titled mother-in-law 
was as fine a bit of eccentric low comedy as could 
be desired, and his harangue to the sleeping in- 
fant — when he stole the coral — ^was a gem. H. 
J. Montague as D'Alroy, Charles A. Stevenson 
as Hawtree, Ada Dyas as Esther, Effie Germon 
as Polly, E. M. Holland as Sam, and Mme. Ponisi 
as the Marchioness were all happily cast. To 
make fun of the Robertsonian comedy is easy. 
It is often trivial, conventional, and ultra- 
sentimental, and it is too full of predestined coin- 
cidence, but in most of its details and character 
sketches it is veracious and human. 

U6 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Lester Wallaek was superb in Planche's 
comedietta *'The Captain of the Watch/' The 
manner was all. He carried the character of 
the gay, gallant, coxcombical hero with the most 
picturesque effrontery. It was worth going to 
the theater to see him bow himself off in the last 
act. He retired backward, almost across the 
whole width of the stage, making sweeping bows 
to every member of the cast in turn, with an ap- 
propriate salutation to each. The difficult 
maneuver was performed with a picturesque 
grace and elegant assurance which were inde- 
scribably effective. 

He revealed another side of his art in **John 
Garth, '* the melodrama which John Brougham 
made out of the novel of that name. In this he 
showed his power in the portrayal of the graver 
emotions. Garth is a strong, generous man who, 
soured by misfortune and injustice, has become 
callous and misanthropical, but is restored to 
his better self by the promptings of paternal 
affection and the reawakening of his natural mag- 
nanimity. In this character Wallaek exhibited 
morose gravity, virile tenderness, and passionate 
rage with striking effect; and he also displayed 
a mastery of the symbols of the graver emotions 
in the ^^All for Her" of Palgrave Simpson and 
Hermann Merivale, in which a ruined profligate, 

117 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ennobled by hopeless affection, sacrifices himself 
to secure the happiness of the loved one, after 
the fashion of Sydney Carton. It was an able 
and a moving portrayal, but was wanting in sin- 
cerity. His emotional display was a very clever 
and artistic counterfeit, but had no convincing 
ring. It was good plated ware, not sterling 
metal. There was no vein of real tragedy in him. 
He was first and last a comedian. But he could 
embody many of the sterner attributes of man- 
hood, such as energy, promptitude, anger, cour- 
age, and resolution. A. C. Wheeler, one of the 
best known dramatic critics of his time, and 
Steele MacKaye wrote a piece for him called 
**The Twins," in which he enacted two brothers, 
one a dreaming, impractical student, who sat 
among his books while his wife imperilled fame 
and fortune ; the other a keen, bustling, able man 
of the world, the deus ex machina, who comes to 
the rescue, straightens all tangles, and brings 
general happiness in his train. He played his 
own part to admiration, throwing the diverse 
characters into strong relief, and winning a per- 
sonal success, but the play was a failure, partly 
because Ada Dyas, who did not like her part, 
that of the heroine, contented herself with walk- 
ing through it, answering and giving *'cues," 
but attempting nothing in the way of expression 

118 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

or gesture. The wet blanket which she threw 
over the proceedings effectually quenched what- 
ever dramatic fire her associates may have at- 
tempted to kindle. 

In modem drama he was seen at his best in 
such parts as Henry Beauclercq, the shrewd, 
polished, and resourceful diplomat in ^^Diplo- 
macy'* — in which he, with Fred Robinson as 
Orloff, H. J. Montague as Julian, and Rose 
Coghlan as Zicka, constituted a remarkable quar- 
tet; as Hugh Chalcote in *^Ours,** and as Pros- 
per Couramont in *'A Scrap of Paper,*' in which 
his portrayal of a man of the world, cool, im- 
I)erturbable, blandly authoritative, shrewd, indo- 
lent, and witty, stirred into sudden action by an 
emergency of his own creation involving the 
happiness of the woman he loved, must always 
be included among his most brilliant achieve- 
ments. To quote but one incident. There is not 
an actor upon the stage to-day who could ap- 
proach — let alone duplicate — ^him in the treat- 
ment of the scene where he is challenged to fight 
by a frantic young lover. His placid air of 
amused but intensely provocative unconcern, his 
half -humorous, half-compassionate **Poor little 
boy!" in reply to a furious tirade, his careless 
deliberation in the proposal of preposterous 
weapons, his whole air of authority and genial 

119 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

magnanimity, were inimitable. Sardou himself 
could not have wished for an abler interpreter 
of one of the best scenes in one of his cleverest 
comedies. With this memory these notes on the 
old Wallack's may fittingly close. 



120 



IX 



DALY'S STOCK COMPANY IN THE SEVENTIES 

Of the two other prominent stock companies 
of this period, Angustin Daly's and A. M. 
Palmer's, precedence must be allowed to the 
former. Daly was a remarkable man in many 
ways, the creator and arbiter of his own for- 
tunes. In the variety of his accomplishments, in 
his indefatigable industry, in his ambitions, his 
independence, his pluck, and his resourcefulness, 
he stood alone among contemporary managers. 
He was a student with good literary and artistic 
intuitions, wrote (or adapted) a great many of 
his plays, and was virtually his own stage man- 
ager. In his theater he was a despot. Every- 
thing that happened between the box-office and 
the stage door was subject to his personal super- 
vision. There can be no doubt that he would 
have done much more really good work than he 
did if he had not attempted to do so much. As 
a stage director he was brilliant, adventurous, 
prodigal, and catholic, but his knowledge was not 
universal nor his judgment always sound. The 

121 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

artistic success of some of the most costly and 
ambitions of his productions was not commen- 
surate with the reputation of some of his players 
or the elaborateness of the decorations. There 
were apt to be very feeble brothers and sisters in 
the tail-end of his casts, and not infrequently his 
leading players were obvious misfits in the parts 
to which they were assigned. He ransacked the 
curiosity shops of Europe for antique pieces 
which contributed greatly to the splendor of his 
stage interiors, but some of the pictures on the 
walls might be unconscionable daubs. 

Similarly, a landscape scene, admirable in many 
respects, might be ruined by splotches of im- 
possible color or by the introduction of horrible 
imitation statuary. So it came to pass that com- 
paratively few of the fifty or more representa- 
tions which he made in 1874-84 were completely 
satisfactory, both scenically and dramatically, 
however brilliant they might be in spots. He 
never — except possibly in two or three of the 
light comedies which he adapted from the Ger- 
man — attained to the all-round high standard of 
performance set by Wallack's in its best days. 
In his earlier managerial period he was more 
than once on the verge of financial ruin, but he 
found a substantial backer in his father-in-law, 
John Duff, and thereafter he often floated on 

122 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

flood tides of prosperity. His theaters — ^whether 
the Fifth Avenue or the renovated old shanty, 
Wood's Museum, the present Daly's, which he 
occupied in 1879 — ^were never without potential 
attractions. He knew how to cater for the pub- 
lic. He provided for them an atmosphere of 
comfort and refinement, many popular actors, 
including some of sterling worth, diversified pro- 
grammes, and, whenever opportunity offered, the 
most enticing displays of fashionable millinery 
well set off by pretty women. 

At the head of Daly's histrionic forces in 1874 
stood Charles Fisher, an actor of trained skill 
and vast experience. Long past his early prime, 
he was still in full possession of his physical and 
artistic resources. He was tall, handsome, dig- 
nified, with the precise, bold, free execution and 
courtly grace of the old school of comedy. He 
was capable of sparkling and spontaneous gayety 
— as leading man at Wallack's in earlier days he 
had been an admirable Charles Surface — of sly 
humor, vigor, robust passion, and many forms 
of pathos, but not of tragic emotion. In his 
acting he exhibited many of the artistic traits of 
Gilbert and Wallack, but with less distinction and 
power. George Clarke, even then a veteran 
among juveniles — he preserved his youthful figure 
to the last — was another versatile and well- 

123 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

trained actor, expert in all the tricks of his trade, 
intelligent, but without a particle of inspiration. 
W. Davidge, a racy and eccentric personality, 
was a low comedian of wide range and infinite 
experience, brimful of a robust humor which 
could be dry, saturnine, unctuous, or Bacchic at 
will. Moreover, he had a considerable command 
of choler and pathos, but neither in visage nor 
figure was he adapted to the principal characters 
in high comedy. He could play Sir Oliver Sur- 
face, and Eccles, and Dick Deadeye (in ** Pina- 
fore ''). In his degree he was a rare and in- 
valuable performer. Frank Hardenberg was also 
a skilled and versatile player, especially strong in 
all lines of eccentric melodrama. 

Mrs. G. H. Gilbert, an old actress then, lived 
to be loved and honored at a much later date. 
She began her theatrical career as a dancer, 
which doubtless explains the fine poise and ele- 
gance of movement for which she was distin- 
guished to the very end. Her manners were 
notably fine, whether in the perfect simplicity of 
the best modern breeding or in the nicer illustra- 
tion of the artificial methods of the older comedy. 
Her sense of humor, whether broad or refined, 
was keen and true, and found the fullest means 
of expression in her elcfquent facial play and her 
fluent and appropriate gesture. In all the at- 

124 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

tribntes of simple womanhood she could be very 
tender and sympathetic, while as the formidable 
stage mother-in-law — a type of which our modem 
civilization ought to be ashamed — she was un- 
surpassed. For nearly half a century she was 
a public favorite. She has gone and left the 
world no copy. 

At Daly's she found a frequent professional 
associate in James or ** Jimmy'* Lewis, a quaint, 
dry, chipper, and magnetic little comedian who 
contributed very largely to the merriment of his 
generation. He was a most useful player, for 
although his mannerisms were so many and ag- 
gressive that disguise with him was virtually im- 
possible, they were of a kind that harmonized 
well with many widely contrasted characters, and 
he thus suggested a versatility which he did not 
actually possess. In almost any circumstances 
he was amusing, and even when most grotesque 
his impersonations had a finish and consistency 
which gave them artistic value. The leading lady 
of the company, Fanny Davenport, daughter of 
the famous E. L. Davenport, was only inheritor 
in part of her father's genius, but was a superb 
creature physically, in form and feature a thing 
of perfect beauty. In later years she won some 
popular renown in passionate romantic parts, 
but in these salad days her acting, though in- 

125 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

stinctively intelligent and by no means devoid 
of feeling or forcefulness, clearly revealed her 
inexperience. Her personal charms formed no 
small proportion of her theatrical assets. Sara 
Jewett, also a novice, pleased by a singularly at- 
tractive, refined, delicate, and sentimental per- 
sonality. Ada Dyas has been spoken of already. 
Ada Rehan was yet to come. Other members of 
the company may be left to future reference. 

As in the case of Wallack's, I propose to take 
note first of Daly's achievements in the higher 
comedy. In 1874 he produced **The School for 
Scandal, '* following — ^he loved to be up to date — 
the Bancroft model. If, like Wallack, he did not 
do much harm by this departure from old 
standards, he approved a mischievous precedent, 
marked another step in a progressive decadence, 
and paved the way for more futile iand pernicious 
innovations in the near future. He gained noth- 
ing but the opportunity for elaborate decorations 
— which have wrought more evil, perhaps, to the 
modern theater than anything else — of which he 
took the utmost advantage. The representation 
— distinctly inferior to that at Wallack *s — ^was, 
nevertheless, excellent. Charles Fisher as Sir 
Peter was a good second to Gilbert. He failed 
to give prominence to the testiness and crabbed- 
ness of the character; he was a trifle too urbane. 

126 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

But lie had the old comedy style and finish, was 
capital in the quarrel and wholly admirable in 
the screen scene, exhibiting delightful senile glee 
in the episode of the ** little milliner, *' showing 
dignified pathos in his confidences with Joseph 
and a masterly blend of indignation, humiliation, 
suffering, and self-control while listening to the 
raillery of Charles. These qualities can only be 
indicated; it is impossible now to expatiate upon 
thenL 

The novel and most striking feature of the 
representation was the Joseph of Louis James, 
which was exceedingly happy in its combination 
of a modem spirit with formal style. James 
Anderson — ^primarily a tragedian, and a far more 
artful expert in the technique of acting than Mr. 
James — ^was as careful (in the Drury Lane re- 
vival of which mention has been made) to em- 
phasize the element of calculation in Joseph's 
hypocrisy as he was to embellish him with super- 
ficial plausibility and polish. James played the 
character more in the spirit of a roguish and 
time-serving egotist, who, finding it easy to veil 
his moral and actual delinquencies behind com- 
placent hypocrisies, had contracted the habit of 
them without much thought of the consequences. 
He was not a deep, designing villain, but rather 
a weak and shallow rascal, with agreeable man- 

127 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ners, whose selfish policy of present expediency, 
very successful for a time, finally and inevitably 
was to lead to his complete discomfiture. It was 
an extremely able and plausible performance, 
with an air of frankness and unaffected honesty 
about it that supplied some warrant for Sir 
Peter's confidence. It has not since been ex- 
celled or equalled. The only other really good 
performances were those of Crabtree by Frank 
Hardenberg, a bit of genuine characterization, 
and the Mrs. Candor of Mrs. Gilbert, admirable 
both in manner and delivery. George Clarke 
simply romped through the part of Charles, 
while the Lady Teazle of Fanny Davenport, 
though a respectable first attempt, was remark- 
able only for its loveliness. 

**The School for ScandaP* was followed by a 
series of so-called old comedy revivals. The first 
was a chopped and altered version of Sheridan's 
''The Critic,'* which would only with difficulty 
have been recognized by its author. Fanny 
Davenport burlesqued Tilburina prettily enough, 
and Lewis was comical in what was left of Puff, 
as he was in everything, and may have satisfied 
theatergoers who had never had the good for- 
tune to see Charles Mathews in the part, but the 
only player who caught the true spirit of the ex- 
travaganza was Davidge, whose Whiskerandos 

128 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

was ** exquisite fooling. '* It was Davidge again 
who was conspicuously competent — among 
younger performers who were often iU at ease 
in what were to them strange conditions — in the 
part of Old Hardy in a modified version of 
Hannah Cowley's **The Belle's Stratagem,*' his 
robust and colorful humor exciting much merri- 
ment. Fanny Davenport evidently had a good 
notion of the character of Letitia Hardy, but not 
the art to embody it. The earlier scenes she 
ruined by grotesque exaggeration, but she was 
a bewitching vision. Louis James was too heavy 
for Doricourt in the opening acts, but was more 
nearly satisfactory as the aroused and jealous 
lover at the close. Mrs. Gilbert was perfectly at 
home in the part of Mrs. Rackett, and Lewis, 
though intensely modern, was very funny as the 
irrepressibly inquisitive and loquacious Flutter. 
But the interpretation was a patchwork of old and 
new, inharmonious in design and unequal in exe- 
cution. Only the costliness of the framework in 
which it was set made it seem a precious thing. 
The ** Masks and Faces" of Charles Reade is 
not yet one of the old comedies, but is written 
in a similar vein, and may, by courtesy, be 
reckoned among them. Daly, of course, revived 
it in order to exhibit Fanny Davenport in the 
showy part of Peg WofBngton, which in bygone 

129 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

days was coveted by every capable actress who 
owned a pretty face. In personal fascination 
Miss Davenport was the equal, doubtless, of Peg 
herself, and she represented her very charmingly, 
if in strictly contemporary fashion. The tone of 
the comedy and the manners of the period she 
disregarded. But her deficiencies in these re- 
spects were fully atoned for by the Triplet of 
Charles Fisher, which was no whit inferior to 
that of Benjamin Webster, the original creator 
of the character. The latter, indeed, depicted 
with exquisite fidelity the mental and bodily 
sufferings of the starving poet, but failed to sug- 
gest the buoyancy of spirit which enabled him 
to endure them. The occasional gleams of this 
sanguine temperament in Fisher's impersonation 
not only lightened the gloom of the character, but 
made it still more sympathetic. It was a won- 
derful bit of vital portraiture, which conferred 
artistic dignity upon the entire representation. 
In January, 1875, Mr. Daly put on a badly 
mangled version of **The Merchant of Venice" 
in four tableaux, the rich dressing and picturesque 
setting making small amends for the irreverent 
and often incapable treatment of the text. The 
representation, although much lauded at the time, 
would scarcely be worthy of record here but for 
the appearance of E. L. Davenport as Shylock. 

130 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

He was one of the ablest, best instructed, and 
most versatile actors of bis time, bringing to his 
characterizations a noble presence, an intellectual 
and plastic countenance, a clear and trumpet- 
like enunciation, and glowing dramatic fire. He 
surpassed Edwin Booth in range, though inferior 
to him in subtlety and electrical tragic inspira- 
tion. His Jew was a forceful and consistent 
study, masterful, keen, with a note of menace in 
its sarcastic self-control. He was intense rather 
than tempestuous, and tore no passion to tatters, 
ffis first encoimter with Antonio was marked by 
deep craft imderlying suave cynicism. In the 
street scene — after the loss of his jewels and the 
flight of his daughter — the agonies of wounded 
avarice were portrayed with thrilling and realistic 
power. The references to his fugitive child sug- 
gested bitter revengeful rage rather than parental 
pathos. The concentrated, cool, and deadly pur- 
pose of his acting in the court scene was ap- 
palling, and his final collapse a tragic picture of 
blank and irremediable despair. The Portia of 
Carlotta Leclercq and the Bassanio of Louis 
James were both creditable efforts, but the his- 
trionic quality of the general support was worse 
than indifferent. 

Davenport was again the dominating figure in 
a revival of ^'As You Like It" at Daly's in 1876, 

131 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

but in this case was not the only competent 
player. Of all the interpretations of Jacques I 
can recall his was the best in its philosophic pose 
and carriage, in reflective or caustic humor and 
oratorical skill. It is a pity that the phonograph 
did not then exist to keep a permanent record of 
his recitation of the ** Seven Ages" soliloquy for 
the instruction and profit of future players. 
There was not in it the slightest suggestion of 
studied vocal trick or calculated gesture. He 
uttered the lines as if, lost in revery, he were 
unconsciously speaking aloud the description of 
the successive pictures as they formed themselves 
in his mind. There was no minute and labored 
mimicry — ^no attempted realization of the sigh- 
ing lover, the sudden and quick soldier, the 
round-bellied justice, or the lean and slippered 
pantaloon — but only just enough of change in 
facial expression and vocal tone to denote the 
speaker's introspective appreciation of the ideals 
he was contemplating. Delicate as was the 
method, the dramatic effect was extraordinary. 
Mr. Davenport was equally successful, if in a 
very different way, in the bantering encounter 
with Orlando. His whole impersonation was a 
notable instance of executive skill directed by 
artistic instinct. The Touchstone of Davidge 
was another excellent performance, in the true 

132 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Shakespearean vein, full of rich and quaint 
hnmor and aptly illustrative resource. Law- 
rence Barrett was a virile and amatory, if not 
very romantic, Orlando, and D. H. Harkins an 
efficient Banished Duke, while the minor per- 
sonages were inoflfensive. Fanny Davenport was 
a lovely Rosalind to the eye, was spirited, arch, 
gallant, and coquettish, but the poetic side of the 
character eluded her. She was a modem young 
woman having **a good time'* in medieval mas- 
querade, and this was true also a year later when 
the comedy was revived to introduce Charles 
Coghlan as Orlando, which he played admirably. 



133 



ADELAroE NEILSON AND THE UNION 
SQUARE STOCK COMPANY 

Adelaide Neilson acted Juliet in a revival of 
** Borneo and Julief at Daly's in 1877, and, of 
course, drew the town. She had long been famous 
in the character, with which her fame is per- 
haps now most closely associated. She was 
ravishingly pretty and she had a measure of 
dramatic genius, but not of the high, inventive, 
intellectual type. Her natural intelligence was 
ample, her artistic equipage sufficient, but not 
remarkable; she could be arch, tender, pathetic, 
and fervently affectionate, and she could strike 
a thrilling note of emotional passion. All her 
gifts and accomplishments were exhibited in her 
Juliet, which was in full ripeness at Daly's, 
where she had the advantage of an ardent, virile, 
and passionate Romeo in Eben Plympton. Her 
balcony scene — less dainty, poetic, and ethereal 
than Modjeska's or Stella Colas 's — was fascinat- 
ing and lovely in its manifestation of youthful 
faith and ardor and rapturous happiness, mingled 
with maidenly timidity; and in the potion scene 
her physical vigor enabled her to give thrilling 

134 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

expression to a paroxysm of hysterical horror, 
with very little suggestion — there was a trace — 
of rant. She will always hold a place, if not the 
first, among the great Juliets. And on this oc- 
casion she was, on the whole, well supported. 
Charles Fisher's Mercutio was gay and buoyant 
in spirit and brilliant in technique. Mrs. Gilbert 
was an excellent Nurse, Crisp a fiery Tybalt, and 
Hardenberg a capable Friar. 

In a revival of ** Twelfth Nighf Miss Neilson 
as Viola was less satisfactory to a critical taste. 
The more delicate, imaginative, and romantic 
side of the character escaped her. She was too 
buxom, gay, and debonair, reflecting but rarely 
the tender melancholy of an apparently hopeless 
love and anxiety for the loss of a brother. But 
the spell of her physical beauty, her archness and 
vivacity, was always potent with her audience. 
Charles Fisher's Malvolio, a finely finished bit 
of eccentric comedy, only lacked a touch of 
quixotic pride and gravity to perfect it. The 
Toby Belch of Davidge was rich in liquorish 
humor, better than any ever seen here, perhaps, 
with the single exception of poor Wenman's. 
Plympton was a capital Sebastian, and the young 
John Drew a promising Sir Andrew. 

This must be accounted among the most worthy 
of Mr. Daly's old comedy revivals, as it was for 

135 




SIXTY yp:ars of the theater 

sonic time the last. Misfortune overtook hiniy 
and (luring 1878 lie was out of the New York 
fiehl. Wlien he returned to the city it was to 
o])en tlio renovated Broadway Theater (Wood's 
^lusouni) under the name of Daly's, with a com- 
pany wliicli was to become famous in the lighter 
forms of social drama, but was ill-adapted to the 
intcrpn^tation of artificial literary comedy or 
imaginative ])oetic plays. But this fact did not 
pi-cvcnt Mr. Daly from making occasional in- 
cursions into old comedy in his own arbitrary 
fashion. In 1882 he selected Colly Gibber's **She 
Would and She AVouldn't" — no very precious 
tiling, to be sure — cut and changed it remorse- 
lessly, ])artly in the interests of propriety, partly 
to brin^ it within the capacity of his company, 
but chi(»fly to ^ive his new leading lady, Ada 
fichan, then in Ihm- earliest bloom (but not the 
actn^ss she afterward l>ecame), an opportunity 
of disj)laying her i)iquant charm, mercurial 
spirits, and sj^ai'kling humor. She frolicked 
lhroui!:h the i)art of the disguised Tlippolyta with 
infinite vivacity and pretty audacity, making a 
fascinatin.i? cavalier. But as a bit of old comedy 
her ]>oi'formance was utterly insi<2:nificant. And 
of the sui)]^ortinij: conii>any only old Charles 
Fisher, as the obstinate, fussy, and gullible Don 
Manuel, seemed to be in his proi)er element. 

13C 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

A little later Mr. Daly offered his own adapta- 
tion of Garrick's expurgated edition of Wycher- 
ley's **Tlie Country Wife,'* which, of course, was 
valueless as an example of dramatic construction, 
style, manners, or anything else. It was not even 
a reflection of the original work, which in some 
respects was fortunate. Ada Rehan did not in 
the least resemble the true Peggy Thrift, for 
whom she substituted, with amusing effect, her 
own attractive self. Once more Mr. Fisher, as 
Moody, was the one player in the cast who knew 
his business. Mr. Daly's company was no less 
unhappy in the extracts which he provided for 
them from **The Recruiting Sergeant*' of 
Farquhar, which had not been essayed in this 
country for fifty years. The newspaper praise be- 
stowed upon some of these misrepresentations 
was astounding. 

The simple truth is that Augustin Daly's repu- 
tation as an enlightened supporter of the higher 
drama, an elevator of the stage, was largely 
fictitious. He had artistic instincts and ambi- 
tions, but not the knowledge, the persistence, or 
the material to bring his more serious endeavors 
to full fruition. But for contemporaneous plays 
of all kinds he had a much sounder intellectual 
and managerial equipment. It was in this de- 
partment that he often achieved solid attainment 

137 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

and prosperity. But it is not necessary to dwell 
long, or particularly, upon this phase of his 
career. The plays which filled his theater and 
his treasury — many of them clever, bright, amus- 
ing, or emotionally exciting and sometimes most 
effectively performed — ^were of a common type 
and purely ephemeral. Few were of any notable 
literary or dramatic merit or are now remem- 
bered even by name. Such pieces as **The 
Woman of the Day," *'The Big Bonanza," **Our 
Boys," ** Pique" (in which Fanny Davenport 
made a great personal hit), ** Needles and Pins," 
**The Passing Regiment," ** Dollars and Sense," 
and **Love on Crutches," all belonged to the 
same family. They were excellent entertainment, 
lightly illustrative of the follies of the day, were 
luxuriously dressed, and were admirably suited to 
the personal and histrionic qualities of the com- 
pany. The selection of them from the com- 
mercial point of view was eminently sagacious, 
and the representations of them, in their way, 
completely satisfactory. 

Neater or more exhilarating light comedy work 
than was furnished by Charles Fisher, Mrs. G. 
H. Gilbert, Ada Rehan, John Drew, James Lewis, 
Frank Hardenberg, Fanny Morant, George 
Parkes, Virginia Dreher, Charles Leclercq, and 
others, could not reasonably be asked. And much 

138 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

of the acting, in its delicacy and point, was of 
high artistic quality. But the prevailing spirit in 
all was one of frivol. The promise of serious 
social satire in ^^Our First Families" and 
'' Americans Abroad" was lamentably unfulfilled, 
legitimate dramatic themes being ruined by gro- 
tesque extravagance. Fanny Davenport, rashly 
adventuring (with Daly's consent) upon the pre- 
serves of Sarah Bernhardt, made a respectable 
failure as the tragic old grandmother in the 
pseudo-classic '^ Vesta," and Ada Behan, chal- 
lenging comparison with Clara Morris, was sadly 
ineffectual in the morbid emotionalism of 
*'Odette." '*The Moorcroft" of Bronson How- 
ard, the "Through the Dark" of Steele MacKaye, 
"Serge Panine," the "Mankind" of Merritt and 
Conquest, were melodramas of varying degrees 
in the second rate. "The American," a Daly 
adaptation of Dumas ^s "L^Etrangere," was a 
piece of stronger dramatic caliber, and is memor- 
able for the masterly performance in it by 
Charles Coghlan of the abominable Duke de Sept- 
monts — a microscopic study of cold, smooth, 
steely villany — and the piquant and dangerous 
adventuress of Jeffreys Lewis. A notable suc- 
cess was won also by "The Squire," Pinero's 
dramatization from Hardy's "Far from the Mad- 
ding Crowd," in which Ada Rehan played with 

139 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

much charm and passion, although she did not in 
any way embody Hardy's heroine. Mr. Daly 
showed commendable enterprise also in his pro- 
duction of Pinero's *' Lords and Commons,*' for 
which he prepared a very strong cast, but the play 
proved a disappointment, and most of the actors 
unfortunate misfits. 

The Union Square Theater, under the manage- 
ment of Sheridan Shook and A. M. Palmer, 
played a very prominent part in New York 
theatrical history in 1874-84. Shook was the 
capitalist and Palmer the director. The latter 
was a man of considerable cultivation, suave, 
shrewd, worldly, somewhat hesitant and timid in 
judgment, but with first-rate executive ability 
and a remarkable faculty of finding means to 
serve his ends. He selected his actors with much 
discrimination, knowing what he wanted from 
them, but in the matter of the choice of plays and 
the preparation of them he trusted much in the 
acumen of his right-hand man and familiar, A. 
R. Cazauran, a Bohemian journalist and linguist 
of wide and curious learning, great practical 
ability, and cosmopolitan experience. Profoundly 
versed in theatrical literature and detail, he was 
invaluable not only as reader, translator, adapter, 
or supervising stage-manager, but as general 
agent, mentor, and guide. He was an ideal fac- 

140 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
totum and, for a variety of reasons with which 

* 

we need not now concern ourselves, he was per- 
fectly willing to work in the background, so that 
comparatively few persons knew how much the 
theater, and Mr. Palmer, owed to his brains. 
He not only virtually selected many of the most 
remunerative plays, but put the final polish on 
them. So much is due to the memory of an old 
acquaintance who had his weaknesses and paid 
for them pretty dearly. 

In his day the Union Square company was the 
best in the country, and probably in the world 
for its own particular purpose, but it was not 
an ideal stock organization, for the simple reason 
that its capacity was strictly limited to melo- 
drama, either of the sensational or social emo- 
tional variety. It was not qualified to engage 
ui the higher literary comedy, in imaginative 
romance or tragedy, and Mr. Palmer, wise in 
his generation, made no perilous excursions in 
those directions. He was content to do well what 
he set out to do, and by adhering steadily to this 
policy he reaped a rich reward. All his repre- 
sentations were distinguished by vigor and vital- 
ity, and that cooperative smoothness and propor- 
tion which can only be attained by actors long 
accustomed to each other's methods and charac- 
teristics. 

141 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

Among the chief performers, who figured 
largely in his many successes, were Charles E. 
Thome, Jr., a somewhat stiff but intelligent and 
forceful actor, whose stalwart form lent veri- 
similitude to all virile parts; Fred C. Robinson, 
a sterling and versatile player, who got his 
schooling with Phelps at Sadler's Wells; McKee 
Rankin, then a model of slim muscular vigor and 
excellent in all forms of melodrama ; J. H. Stod- 
dart, an eccentric comedian of rare ability, who 
shone in fierce passion as well as in broad humor 
and simple pathos; Charles Coghlan; James 
O'Neil; John Parselle, one of the best of old 
men; Stuart Robson, who was not much of an 
actor, but had a quaint and comic personality 
which brought him great popularity ; Sara Jewett, 
a refined and pleasing actress; Fanny Morant, 
preeminent in the line of aristocratic haughti- 
ness; Clara Morris, of whom more hereafter; 
Kate Claxton, Kitty Blanchard, and others of 
lesser degree. The plays in which they appeared 
were, almost without exception, good of their 
kind, but, as few of them had any permanent 
literary or dramatic value, it will not be neces- 
sary to describe them in detail. Among the most 
successful melodramas were ^^The Two Orphans," 
**Rose Michel,'' ^^Ferreol,'' ''A Celebrated Case'* 
(which the acting of Charles Coghlan greatly dig- 

142 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

nified), and ''The Danicheflfs,'' all of French 
origin; *'The Lights of London/' which was 
English, and **Two Men of Sandy Bar'' and 
''The False Friend," which were native. This 
last was by Edgar Fawcett, and was founded 
upon the notorious Tichbome case, of which all 
the civilized world had been talking. This was 
a good deal stranger than most fiction, and 
might be quoted in justification of much poetic 
license in a scheme of mistaken identity, but Mr. 
Fawcett 's story was so wildly extravagant that 
it needed all the cleverness of the company to 
give it even the semblance of plausibility. But 
the piece was popular for a time. In ' ' Two Men 
of Sandy Bar," Bret Harte quite failed to get 
the charm of his short stories across the foot- 
lights. 

The best of these was *'The Two Orphans," 
which, in the plentitude of its incident, rapidity 
and sustained interest of action, and succession 
of plausible climaxes, is a remarkable specimen 
of constructive skill in romantic melodrama. And 
it was perfectly acted. Charles Thome as the 
gallant hero, McKee Eankin as the ferocious 
Jacques, Marie Wilkins as the monstrous Madame 
Frochard, F. F. Mackay as the wretched and 
enamored cripple, John Parselle and Fanny 
Morant as the Compte and Comptess de Linieres, 

143 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

and Kate Claxton as the blind orphan, all gave 
most notable performances. Such a representa- 
tion would have been worth while even if the play 
had been a much poorer dramatic thing than it 
was. It was a triumph of artistic management, 
but a triumph that was, in a large degree, acci- 
dental. Hart Jackson, who translated and owned 
the piece, hawked it about New York for months 
in the vain effort to find a manager who would 
produce it. A. M. Palmer would have nothing 
to do with it, although he nibbled at it for a time. 
It was Agnes Booth, widow of J. B. Bootb, 
who was first to realize its theatrical value. In 
an idle hour she found the manuscript lying in 
a desk in the office of Jarrett & Palmer, then 
lessees of Booth's Theater. She read it, was 
inmaensely impressed — she knew good melodrama 
when she saw it — and strongly advised Jarrett 
& Palmer to secure possession of it. While they 
were debating the matter, A. M. Palmer got wind 
of the negotiations and Agnes Booth's en- 
thusiasm, and sending for Jackson, who was des- 
perately hard up, bought the play from him for 
a ridiculously small sum — $700, I believe. Even 
when the play was in rehearsal he did not fully 
realize what a prize he had obtained. On the 
first night the performance dragged — partly 
owing to the elaborate scenery — and it was long 

144 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

after midnight when the final curtain fell. By 
that time the audience had grown thin and some- 
what apathetic, and Palmer, always easily dis- 
couraged, was inclined to believe that he had met 
with failure. On the succeeding day he began 
preparations for putting a new play in rehearsal. 
These were quickly ended by the ensuing rush 
of the public. 



145 



XI 



THE UNION SQUARE THEATER, CLARA 
MORRIS AND TOMMASO SALVINI 

Op plays somewhat distinct in quality from 
melodrama, *'Tlie Banker's Daughter'' of Bron- 
son Howard deserves special mention as a play 
by an American author, dealing with American 
characters in a somewhat Gallic style, but with- 
out any trace of the essentially immoral and mor- 
bid sentimentality of the French social plays of 
the period. The tale of a young girl who marries 
a rich and honorable man while loving another, 
in order to save her father from ruin, was not 
very fresh, and the treatment of it was somewhat 
conventional and melodramatic, but the piece 
was well written, the characterization deft, and 
the incidents theatrically effective. It marked a 
long upward step in Bronson Howard's dramatic 
career. Charles Thome was admirable as the 
magnanimous husband and Sara Jewett pleas- 
ingly sympathetic as the distressed young wife. 
W. G. Wills 's ** Olivia" is too well known to need 
present comment. On this occasion Fanny Daven- 
port was the Olivia, a part which she acted 

146 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

prettily, but in entirely modem fashion, exciting 
doubts as to whether she had ever read **The 
Vicar of Wakefield/* The only Goldsmith flavor 
in the representation resided in the Vicar of 
Charles Fisher. 

The production of Sardou^s ** Daniel Eochat*' 
was one of the most memorable incidents in the 
history of this theater. The play, in literary 
quality, in sincerity of purpose, in ingenuity of 
construction, and psychological analysis, was one 
of the author *s finest achievements. Discussion 
of its philosophy here is as impracticable as it 
would be unprofitable. Briefly it is a study of 
the inevitable and — as he saw it — the irre- 
concilable spiritual conflict between a husband 
and wife devotedly attached to each other, the 
former a convinced atheist, the latter a saintly 
religious devotee. In the final test it is the 
woman of ecstatic faith who proves the stanchest. 
The brilliant and sincere free-thinker, in the ex- 
tremity of his passion, is willing to sacrifice his 
principles to insure the happiness of both, but 
the woman, realizing the motive of the conces- 
sion, refuses a compromise which is repugnant 
to her creed. This was a play of absorbing in- 
terest and dramatic power and it was mag- 
nificently played. The character of the devotee 
was exactly suited to the style and temperament 

147 



aXTT TEJLK^ Q^ THE THEATER 

Qti Sftra. Jewisti^ wMIe Tlion&e — if he failed to 
€ixpr«s3 fuZy tib& mteileetiBl brilliazKy of Bochat 
— ponrsred nis pos^oiL azid bis safferings with 
nuMC stinftfnar pow^r. A complete contrast to 
••Daniel Boefiat'* was afforded br **The 
Bantzaos*'' < Er!!kma2Eit4ZhatriaR)^ a pretty, 
idrllie story of tiie reecHKiIiatioii effected be- 
tweeii two hostile old brodiers by their children, 
who, in «pite of paternal pndiibitions, have 
fallal in love. Jdkn ParseDe and J. H. Stoddart 
carried off the histrk>nic honors by their perfect 
embodiments of the contrasted brothers. '^Far 
from the Madding Crowd.*' an adaptation by A. 
B. Cazanran, was chiefly notable for the complete 
faOore of Clara Morris to identify herself with 
the character of Hardy's heroine, Bathsheba 
Everdene, a conception which lay far beyond the 
scope of her dramatic horizon. But, of course, 
she filled the passionate scenes with vivid emo- 
tion. 

Miss Morris achieved some signal triumphs at 
the Union Square, but before considering these 
brief reference must be made to several of the 
popular French emotional plays in which she 
bore no part. One of these, ^*Led Astray," es- 
sentially immoral in its sentimental gloss of illicit 
passion, drew crowded houses for months, a re- 
sult chiefly due to the sentimental appeal of the 

148 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

impassioned acting of Rose Eytinge, an actress 
whose voluptuous charm was reinforced by gen- 
uine dramatic power and artistic skill. **The 
Mother's Secret,** a version of Sardou's insin- 
cere, morbid, and incredible but theatrically 
adroit ' ' Seraphine, * * was signalized by the grip- 
ping acting of Charles Coghlan as Admiral Le 
Pont, one of those keen, polished, inflexible char- 
acters upon which the intellectual method of the 
actor conferred especial distinction. Mr. Coghlan 
was equally impressive and skilful as the pitiless, 
unscrupulous, and wholly impossible Montjoye 
in **The Man of Success, '* his authoritative and 
tactful style helping to veil the inconsistencies of 
the character. **A Parisian Romance,** a thor- 
oughly unwholesome and preposterous emotional 
concoction of Octave Feuillet, enabled Richard 
Mansfield to mount his first step on the ladder 
of fame. Hitherto he had been known only as a 
clever performer in light and musical comedy. 
Now he persuaded A. M. Palmer to give him the 
part of Baron Chevrial — a sordid, lecherous, and 
treacherous old reprobate — which had been re- 
fused by the veteran comedian, J. H. Stoddart, 
as imworthy of his talents and reputation. Mans- 
field, little more than a lad, dressed and acted the 
character according to his own bizarre conception 
of it, and literally amazed his manager and a 

149 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

first-night audience by the extraordinarily vital 
picture which he presented of senile depravity 
disporting itself in ghastly imitation of youth. 
It was a genuine creation, grotesque yet horribly 
life-like, which filled the spectators with a sort 
of shuddering admiration, and made Mansfield's 
fortune. As a star in later years, he always kept 
this character in his repertory, but in course of 
time he greatly weakened the effect of it by un- 
wise elaboration and exaggeration. This is one 
of the temptations to which stars yield readily. 

To return to Clara Morris, one of the very few 
American actresses to whom the gift of genius 
may be properly ascribed. It is by no means 
easy to define her place in any coldly critical 
category. She was, first and last, a natural bom 
actress. If judged by her artistic equipment 
only, she could not establish a claim to any very 
high place in the ranks of her contemporaries. 
She was far behind many of them in artistic cun- 
ning, but she distanced all of them in flashes of 
convincing realism and in poignancy of natural 
emotion. She was often barely respectable as 
an elocutionist, she was habitually crude, and 
occasionally unrefined, in pose, gesture, and ut- 
terance; she had distressful mannerisms, she 
could not or did not attempt to modify or dis- 
guise her individual personality, her range was 

150 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

limited — she could not soar into the npper re- 
gions of tragedy — ^but, nevertheless, she showed, 
especially in emotional crises, a strong grasp of 
diversified characters within her own boundaries 
and illuminated them, at intervals, with such a 
blaze of vivid truthfulness that, for the moment, 
she seemed to be perfectly identified with them. 
Such effects, very rare upon the stage, may 
safely be accepted as proofs of dramatic genius, 
of which, of course, there are varying degrees. 
And Miss Morrises genius, while unmistakable, 
was of a very special and restricted order. It 
was not manifested in romance, in high comedy, 
or in the heroic emotions, whether good or evil, 
but shone out resplendently in the intensification 
of the commoner passions of ordinary human 
nature, and particularly in the depiction of 
pathetic suffering, whether mute or tearfully 
eloquent. As she never really succeeded, or came 
very near to success, in any great part, she can 
not be called a great actress. It is only in great 
parts, embodying lofty imagination, that demon- 
strations of a great interpretative faculty can be 
made. This test she failed to satisfy. But she 
was great as a realist in the exaggerated, false, 
or morbid emotionalism of the current French 
plays of her period, and displayed high intelli- 
gence in a considerable range of English drama. 

151 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Miss Morris had already won renown as an 
emotional actress at Daly's and elsewhere when 
she appeared in the Union Square Theater in 
1874 as Blanche de Chelles, the abominable 
heroine of Octave Feuillet's **The Sphinx. '* Psy- 
chologically the young woman was a bundle of 
the grossest inconsistencies, an early example, 
possibly, of divided and warring personalities. 
Dominated entirely by her passions, she plots 
to poison her dearest friend in order to run away 
with her husband. Then to prove her innocence 
she agrees to marry another man whom she de- 
tests and, as a climax, swallows the poison which 
she had prepared for her rival. The whole play 
was nasty rubbish. Miss Morris not only 
triumphed in it, but actually made the creature 
she impersonated plausible if not credible. Her 
acting was extraordinarily specious and subtle, 
full of fascination, venom, and passion, and, at 
the last, of a stony-eyed despair which carried 
the house by storm. It was an ignoble but 
thrilling achievement. A month later she essayed 
the character of Julia in Sheridan Knowles's 
**The Hunchback, '* which, artificial as it is, con- 
tains the elements of flighty, wilful, but pure and 
honorable womanhood. She had not the artistic 
training necessary to a really good performance 
of the part, but these traits she did interpret, and 

152 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

in the more serious scenes with Clifford and Sir 
Walter she evinced such an appealing sincerity 
that minor artistic delinquencies were forgotten. 
If she was not Julia, she suggested nothing of 
Blanche de Chelles. Retiring from the Union 
Square Theater for a time, she entered upon a 
series of bold experiments elsewhere, adventur- 
ing first upon Lady Macbeth, in which she, a 
modem of the modems, challenged comparison 
with Charlotte Cushman and other less noted old- 
school impersonators of the part. 

Her audacity was largely in excess of her 
equipment, but she made no ridiculous failure. 
Neither in physique nor in declamatory power 
was she fitted for parts of tragic dignity and pas- 
sion. And she did not attempt the impossible. 
* ' Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent 
under it,*' was the line that furnished the key- 
note to her conception. She presented a slight, 
lithe figure, richly but plainly dressed, a girlish 
and, but for a certain hardness in the eyes and 
mouth, an innocent face, surmounted by a coro- 
net and a mass of golden hair — a seductive and 
dangerous siren, full of lure and guile, amatory, 
callous, ambitious, and immoral. And such were 
the characteristics which she successfully por- 
trayed. She did not dominate her husband, but 
humored, tempted and spurred him. 

153 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

From the traditional notion of Lady Macbeth 
she was, of course, leagues away, but not much 
further than was Ellen Terry. Conservative 
critics rated her soundly, but her ideal was not 
entirely devoid of authoritative support. The 
great Sarah Siddons herself is said to have 
found warrant for it, but rejected it as unsuited 
to her majestic style. Henry Irving created a 
new Macbeth to harmonize with his own artistic 
limitations and personal idiosyncrasies. Miss 
Morris did the same thing; but we know that 
what is but a choleric word for a captain is flat 
blasphemy for the private soldier. Personally 
I believe that the true Lady Macbeth is to be 
found midway between the Morris-Terry and the 
Siddons-Cushman types. The latter is the 
grander and more imposing, but the former is 
more human and, perhaps, more subtle. 

With the masses the more heroic embodiment 
will always take precedence. Miss Morris's as- 
sumption had at least the merits of originality, 
cleverness, and sustained interest. She was 
never conventional and she made many interest- 
ing points. Her elocution, inevitably, was sadly 
defective. Her reading of Macbeth 's letter was, 
from the old point of view, tame, but it was 
natural and not ineffectual. In the soliloquy fol- 
lowing it there was more of clairvoyant specula- 

154 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

tion than of murder. Her invocation to the 
spirits to iinsex her was uttered with the con- 
centrated intensity which she could always com- 
mand. There was more of mockery than ferocity 
in her manner when she upbraided Macbeth for 
his vacillation. She almost laughed when she 
compared him with the **poor cat in the adage.'* 
After the murder, in taking the daggers from her 
demoralized lord, she made it plain that it was 
only her will-power that enabled her to over- 
come her own natural feminine weakness. In 
the banquet scene again she suggested with 
unerring skill the strain of an outward com- 
posure maintained by will-power under the stress 
of harrowing anxiety and dread. She signified 
her distress to the audience while offering a 
courteous front to her amazed guests as if the 
king's seizure were really the frequent infirmity 
she asserted it to be. But when the chamber had 
been cleared she exhibited complete nervous col- 
lapse, uttering a distressful wail which, however 
unauthorized, was wonderfully impressive; and 
her sleep-walking scene, wholly novel and mod- 
ern, was intensely pathetic in its denotement of 
spiritual anguish. The personification as a 
whole lacked the regal, imperious, imaginative, 
and masculine qualities of Shakespeare's heroine 
— it was all woman — but it had brains and con- 

155 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

sistency, excited admiration and reflection, and, 
considering the limitations of the actress, it was 
a memorable achievement. 

Next Miss Morris essayed the character of 
Evadne in Richard Sheil's play, which may be 
classified as a classic melodrama. In this, too, 
she disregarded tradition, being unable to com- 
ply with it, but with the melodramatic, emotional 
side of the part she was perfectly qualified to 
deal, and in the critical scenes she illustrated the 
conflict between anger, love, and pride with 
startling vividness. She made a wonderful but 
somewhat unprofitable emotional display also in 
a condensed version of Nicholas Rowers **Jane 
Shore.** Returning to the Union Square Thea- 
ter, she appeared in a Frenchified version of 
**East Lynne,** called *'Miss Multon,** in which 
she made a tremendous hit. Nothing need be 
said of the play, although it was much better dra- 
matically than some other variations of the story, 
whose essence is a cloying sentimentality. Miss 
Morris's acting in it was superb of its kind. As 
the unrecognized mother tortured by the inno- 
cent prattle of her own children, as the broken- 
hearted woman, desperately seeking reinstate- 
ment, fleeing in shame from the home she had 
polluted and abandoned, and in the closing death 
scene, she sounded all the depths of poignant 

156 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

pathos. In * * Eaymonde/ ' an adaptation of the 
'*Mons. Alphonse'* of the younger Dumas, she 
made another extraordinary display of pathos 
and passion, in the character of a wife with an 
unsuspected past, who betrays herself to her 
trusting husband when fate confronts her with 
her illegitimate child; while as Mercy Merrick in 
**The New Magdalen*' she simply obliterated the 
performance of Ada Cavendish, the English 
actress, who was supposed to have made the part 
her own. In realistic pathos, though not in art, her 
Camille was the equal of Bernhardt 's or Mod- 
jeska's. But she has already filled more than her 
allotted space. During the period under review 
she was in the plenitude of her powers. In 
whatever play she appeared she was always the 
center of interest, except once, and that was 
when she played Eosalia in **La Morte Civile*' 
in support of Salvini. Then, for once, she suf- 
fered eclipse. 

Tommaso Salvini was not only incomparably 
the greatest actor and artist whom I have ever 
seen, but one who has never had an equal, prob- 
ably, since the days of Garrick. In physical en- 
dowment, in diversity of histrionic genius, and 
in histrionic training he excelled all his con- 
temporaries. In his prime he was a man of 
majestic presence, a combination — as some one 

157 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

said of the young Alfred Tennyson — of Hercules 
and Apollo. His face, with its spacious forehead, 
dark eyes, and very slightly aquiline nose, had a 
mobility which enabled it to express the deepest 
or most delicate shades of emotion, while his 
voice was one of the most powerful, flexible, and 
mellifluous organs ever implanted in a human 
throat. He was equipped with every histrionic 
implement and faculty and he had learned the 
use of them in arduous years of stock company 
training in boyhood. His tragic genius was so 
precocious that he won renown in the Saul of 
Alfieri when he was only sixteen years old. He 
was in the zenith of his fame when he first 
reached these shores and thrilled the town with 
his Othello. And it should be noted here that only 
those who had the privilege of seeing him in that 
first engagement — when he was supported by an 
Italian company including the brilliant Signora 
Piamonti — ever saw his Othello, as he designed it, 
at its very best. When playing — as he did in 
his later engagements — with English support, no 
actress could be found who was willing to submit 
herself as Piamonti did to the full fury of his 
assault. 

In speaking of his Othello — which I saw very 
often — it is this Italian representation that I 
have in mind. It raised a great critical hubbub. 

158 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Concerning the superfine quality of the acting, 
there was no— or very little— diflFerence of 
opinion, but some of the leading critics — ^accus- 
tomed to the traditional English Othello (gen- 
erally interpreted scholastically by uninspired 
performers) — emptied upon the undisturbed head 
of the great Italian the bitterest vials of their 
wrath, charging him with utter misconception 
and vulgarization of the character. They said 
that he butchered it as he butchered Desdemona. 
I do not propose to reenter upon that contro- 
versy, nor do I believe that it can be settled one 
way or the other by reference to the text, in 
which I was letter perfect fifty years ago, and 
which can be made to prove almost anything. 
How it was played in Elizabethan days we don*t 
know and we never shall. For myself, I am not 
a convert to the theory that Desdemona ought to 
be immolated in the spirit of a religious sacrifice. 
Murder, especially when prompted by jealousy, 
founded or unfounded, is murder and unjudicial. 
Moreover, I am skeptical concerning the pro- 
priety of gauging Shakespeare *s creations by the 
rules of the modem expert psychologist. He 
was a divine poet of marvelous invention and 
dramatic power, with an almost miraculous grasp 
of the component elements in human nature, a 
most intricate and inconsistent thing. His per- 

159 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ceptive knowledge was vast, minute, and curiooSy 
his scholarship inaccurate and inconsiderable. 
He seems to have imagined that Moor and n^gro 
were convertible terms and endowed them both 
with British characteristics. He knew they were 
dark-skinned, amorous, warlike, and ferocious. 

In his composition of Othello he added to these 
ingredients tenderness, courtesy, credulous sim- 
plicity, magnanimity, and a liberal allowance of 
his own poetic and civilized imagination. To all 
these qualities Salvini in his embodiment gave 
ample expression, but he knew much more than 
Shakespeare did about Moorish manners and 
characteristics. He knew, for instance, that 
Moors of that period did not use daggers and 
that where their women were concerned they 
''saw red.*' A suspected wife got short shrift 
in a Moorish harem. Salvini omitted the epilep- 
tic fit — following the exami)le of most English 
actors — altliou<j:li he could have made it very ter- 
rible. But he struck Desdemona, according to the 
old stage direction, and thus indicated the taint of 
savage ancestry. Actors incapable of presenting 
this complex character in all its phases — a task 
making exacting demands upon physical and 
artistic resources — have excellent practical rea- 
sons for excluding both the fit and the blow. 

To Salvini the most difficult executive problems 

ICO 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

presented no insuperable obstacles. There 
seemed to be no limit to the range of his emo- 
tional expression. He exhibited the power of an 
Edwin Forrest in combination with the delicacy 
and subtlety of a Duse. He could overwhelm with 
a thunderous outburst — free from all suspicion 
of rant — or electrify with the mute manifestation 
of suppressed passion. He conceived an Othello 
who was noble. Oriental, and barbaric, and he 
embodied it with a power and consistency which 
made it as real and vital as it was in the highest 
degree tragic. No actor of our times — ^not 
Phelps, Edwin Booth, or John McCuUough — ever 
surpassed him in the authoritative and noble 
dignity of his calmer moments, but when rage and 
jealousy stripped the gloss of civilization from 
him, he was a tiger. His address to the Senate 
he delivered in a tone of grave, frank, fearless 
courtesy which was exactly appropriate, and with 
a nice sufBcieney of suggestive gesture — easy, 
spontaneous, apt, but not ornate — which was won- 
derfully picturesque and natural. His reception 
of Desdemona was passionately tender, and he 
met the insinuation ' ' She has deceived her father 
and may thee*' with a superb gesture of smiling 
confidence. In the night scene at Cyprus he 
showed a flash of his fiery and imperious nature 
as he challenged lago for an explanation in 

161 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

trumpet tones compelling prompt obedience, and 
his eyes blazed as he referred to the awakened 
Desdemona, but his dismissal of Cassio was curt, 
cool, and decisive. lago's poison worked but 
slowly in his veins. He evinced less susceptibil- 
ity to it than most Othellos, but when his jealousy 
once had been aroused, the progressive increase 
of the distemper was rapid and terrible until it 
culminated — after a desperate struggle for self- 
control, illustrated by some of the most ap- 
palling facial play ever seen upon the stage — in 
that frenzied rush upon lago which, in later 
days, used to be regarded as the climactic point 
in the performance. Salvini, his whole form 
dilated and quivering with rage, flung his tempter 
to the floor and stood over him with uplifted foot 
as if about to smash his face. Then he suddenly 
recovered his self-control, offered his hand to 
his prostrate victim with a gesture of contrition, 
jerked him to his feet, and retreated slowly and 
dejectedly up the stage. It may not have been 
Shakespearean, it certainly was not dignified, but 
it was intensely human and dramatic and was 
executed with a power and sincerity which estab- 
lished perfect illusion. 

But the effect of this scene — ^great as it was — 
was exceeded (in the Italian version) in the mur- 
der of Desdemona. The bed, concealed behind 

162 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

heavy curtains, was in the rear right-hand comer 
of the stage. Desdemona, not yet disrobed, 
alarmed by the menace in Othello's look and 
manner, gradually retreated as she replied to his 
interrogations until she reached the left-hand 
comer of the stage by the footlights. As played 
by Piamonti — a lovely woman and magnificent 
actress — she was the personification of pitiful, 
protesting love gradually resolving into speech- 
less terror. Salvini, convulsed, with fixed and 
flaming eyes, half-crouched, slowly circled the 
stage toward her, muttering savagely and inar- 
ticulately as she cowered before him. Rising at 
last to his full height with extended arms, he 
pounced upon her, lifted her into the air, dashed 
with her across the stage and through the cur- 
tains, which fell behind him. You heard a crash 
as he flung her on the bed, and growls as of a 
wild beast over his prey. It was awful — ^utterly, 
abominably un-Shakespearean, if you will, but 
supremely, paralyzingly real — only great genius, 
imaginative and executive, could have presented 
such a picture of man, bereft by maniacal jeal- 
ousy of mercy and reason, reduced to primeval 
savagery. 

Then came a long pause. Emilia knocked at 
the door, once, twice, thrice, louder and louder, 
as she called Othello's name. Presently the cur- 

163 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

tains opened a little and Othello's face, wild 
eyed, was thrust out, and withdrawn. The ten- 
sion was almost insufferable. At last Othello, 
sullen, as if in a dazed calm, came forth and let 
Emilia and the others in. The madness in him 
had subsided. There was a gleam of it in his 
swift attack upon lago, but he played the con- 
cluding scenes with fine pathos and dignity. He 
made no extravagant moan over his own or Des- 
demona's fate. Realizing the enormity of his 
folly and his crime, he knew how to expiate it 
and avoid long agonies of remorse. He spoke 
the concluding lines with proud composure, and 
then swiftly cut his throat with a little scimitar 
that had been concealed in his girdle, closing the 
tragedy with a final touch of horrible realisnu 

In succeeding engagements, playing with Eng- 
lish actors, Salvini enacted the murder scene very 
nearly in accordance with traditional lines, with 
Desdemona on her couch at his entrance. His 
performance then was more dignified and poetic, 
but much less thrilling. Even then he excelled 
all other actors in the sudden access of insensate 
fury with which he committed the actual killing. 
The effect of the face in the curtains he pre- 
served, and it was a notable dramatic stroke. 

I have dwelt with some minuteness upon this 
performance, biit must not omit to note one sig- 

164 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

uificant fact in connection with it, and that is 
that, except in the instance specified, it never 
altered. The artistic finish of it was to the full 
as remarkable as the power. The delicacy of its 
byplay and facial expression was exquisite. 
Every motion and attitude was the result of 
conscientious study, every representation was 
an exact reproduction of its predecessor. It 
was possible to make the details of it the sub- 
ject of a printed record. And yet there was no- 
where the least trace of premeditation or sug- 
gestion of mechanism. Salvini was far too great 
an artist to put any trust in those momentary 
intuitions which ordinary performers dignify by 
the name of inspiration. Such ''inspiration'* 
can only result in the manifestation of the in- 
dividual self of the performer. Salvini had no 
mannerisms. His stature and form, indeed, made 
disguise almost impossible, but his characters 
presented wide distinctions in gait, gesture, car- 
riage, and manners. His versatility was aston- 
ishing. In Italy he was as much admired in high 
comedy as in tragedy. Ristori, who was not 
altogether happy in her own American ex- 
periences, warned him against trying tragedy in 
the United States. The success of his ''Othello,'' 
however, and the failure of his "Sullivan" kept 
him mainly in the tragic field. 

165 



\ 

V 



XII 



TOMMASO SALVINI AS CONRAD, AS NIGER, 
AS SAUL, AND AS LEAR 

Pebhaps the most striking instance of Salvini's 
histrionic suppleness was given when, by way 
of contrast to his Moor, he appeared as Conrad 
in '*La Morte Civile*' of Giacometti. Briefly 
this is a study of a once prosperous, honorable, 
but passionate man, sentenced to prison for 
homicide, who, after fifteen years of confinement, 
breaks out of jail. A wretched fugitive, broken 
in mind and body, seeing in each bush an officer, 
his one aim is to rejoin the wife who has re- 
nounced him, and the little daughter, the idol of 
his dreams, who long ago has forgotten him and 
is not even conscious of his existence. He dis- 
covers them by chance in the guardianship of an 
insincere and worldly priest — to whom he has 
applied for aid — and of a generous infidel. The 
former, by subtle cross-questioning, forces the 
truth from him, and then threatens to surrender 
him to the police if he does not abandon his 
quest. The infidel sympathizes with him, but 
points out that as he has lost all his civil rights, 

166 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

is civilly dead, he can exert no influence over the 
wife, who hates and dreads him, and can only 
wreck the happiness of his idolized child by 
revealing his identity. It is his duty to suffer in 
silence. Conrad, after a struggle, acquiesces in 
the sentence that means death to all his hopes, 
on condition that he may, as a stranger, have one 
meeting with his child. This grace, by agreement 
with his wife, Rosalia, to whom he has appealed, 
is conceded, and he dies of a broken heart as he 
tries to fold the wondering girl in his embrace. 
The whole character is written in a vein of 
ever deepening melancholy, and Salvini played 
it with an astounding realism and gripping 
pathos. In his hunted, weary, footsore, famished 
convict the impersonator of Othello was totally 
unrecognizable. The two characters had not a 
look or a gesture in common. It is impossible 
now to describe the Conrad in detail. Space will 
not permit it. The important points in connec- 
tion with it are that it was perfect in finish and 
consistency, that it was absolutely true and vital, 
that it was antipodal to Othello in every respect, 
and that no effect in it — not even the most poig- 
nant — was in the least degree dependent upon 
physical strength. There was not a single pas- 
sage of tragic passion in it from beginning to 
end. Only once did the actor raise his voice in 

167 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

anger, and that was in the utterance of the word 
**Fiigite/' with which, accompanied by a quick 
gesture of menace, he dismissed the priest after 
an interview in which every form of pathetic 
appeal and expostulation had been futile. In 
that there was a momentary flash of the dan- 
gerous passion that had made the man a mur- 
derer. There was another passage in which he 
displayed animation, the description of his es- 
cape from prison, which was illuminated by such 
a wealth of vivid and varied pantomime that no 
knowledge of Italian was necessary to under- 
stand it. The eloquence of gesture and facial 
play has rarely been so forcibly exemplified. 

The remainder of the performance was pure 
pathos, always subdued, infinitely varied in vocal 
tone and modulation, vitally truthful, and in- 
tensely appealing. Through the last two acts 
the man was palpably dying of sheer weakness 
and despair. But there was none of the morbid 
thrills with which Bernhardt, Morris, and others 
have embellished their death scenes, no horrible 
hospital morbidities. The climax came when at 
the last moment, with his daughter kneeling at 
his feet, in compliance with her softening 
mother's direction, he rallied all his energies to 
bend forward in his chair to take her to his heart. 
Then death seized him, and he pitched forward 

163 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

with a crash headforemost on the stage, where 
he lay in a heap as the curtain fell. Well do I 
remember the effect of that scene on the first 
night he played it here. The house was not one- 
third full — ^he and the play were unknown to the 
public — ^but the spectators had been constantly 
enthralled. Now they sat motionless; almost 
breathless. The hush was that of a death cham- 
ber. Finally some one clapped his hands, and 
the spell was broken. The next instant the thea- 
ter was filled with plaudits. Men and women 
leaped to their feet, some stood on their chairs, 
waved their arms and shouted. Such a demon- 
stration has seldom been seen in New York. Then 
Salvini same before the curtain, bland, composed, 
stalwart, smiling. It was like a resurrection. 

Presently he revealed his genius in a totally 
different light in '* Sullivan, ' ' the play known to 
us as *' David Garrick.'* When the French ver- 
sion of the play was produced in Paris the man- 
agement thought it wise to substitute the name 
of some prominent contemporary English actor 
for that of Garrick, and as Barry Sullivan was 
just then much in evidence on the London 
** posters '* they selected him. So Garrick became 
Sullivan in Italy also. The piece is tricky, con- 
ventional, farcical, and often absurd, especially in 
its supposed reflection of civic life in old London, 

169 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

but undoubtedly provides excellent opportunities 
for a skilled comedian. Lawrence Barrett played 
the leading part with genuine emotional power, 
but was ill at ease in the lighter scenes; E. A. 
Sothem and Charles Wyndham were admirable 
in the lighter but unconvincing in the serious 
episodes. Salvini was immensely superior to 
all three. He played throughout in the vein of 
light comedy, as a courtly, chivalrous, intellectual, 
and ardent gentleman, conferring dignity upon 
a piece completely unworthy of his abilities. Of 
course, he indulged in no buffooneries, but in the 
polished ease of his drawing-room manner he 
gave no hint of the tragedian. In his recognition 
of his beloved ideal — in the girl whom he had 
pledged himself to disgust — he adopted no such 
theatrical artifice as Sothern and Wyndham, who 
staggered backward and grasped a chair for sup- 
port, but created a far stronger and more natural 
effect by the sudden rigidity of his attitude, and 
an involuntary catching of the breath, as if for 
the moment he had been petrified. But he re- 
covered instantly and bowed low, as if to con- 
ceal his face. His subsequent behavior to her 
was delicately suggestive of compassionate sor- 
row. In the drunken scene he did what neither 
Sothern nor Wyndham could do. They were al- 
ternately drunk or sober. Ilis pretended inebriety 

170 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

was continuous, but beneath the veil of feverish 
gayety could be discerned the throbbings of a 
heart tortured by a sense of outraged love and 
bitter degradation. It was a wonderful example 
of histrionic transparency. In the final scene 
with the heroine he distanced all rivals. The 
fervor and tenderness in his wooing could not 
have been surpassed by Fechter, and his appeal 
to the girl's sense of honor and duty vibrated 
with passion and pathos. 

His next triumph was won as Niger, the 
gladiator in Saumet's tragedy, or romantic and 
poetic melodrama, "The Gladiator.*' No greater 
contrast could be imagined than that between 
his refined and intellectual Sullivan and the sav- 
age animalism of the brutal and ferocious bar- 
barian. Some critics preferred his Niger to his 
Othello. I did not, as it required much less 
imaginative power, but it exhibited much of the 
physical prowess and tragic passion of the Moor 
and fell foul of no honored traditions. The play 
is a fine work, both in a literary and dramatic 
sense, but Niger is not a complex character. He 
is vast in bulk and passion. Salvini made him 
colossal in every respect. His first great effect 
was wrought in the delivery of the fine speech 
descriptive of his wrongs, his hunger for revenge, 
and his defiance of the gods who had deserted 

171 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

him. The murder of his wife was related with 
an appalling pantomime. But it was in the fourth 
act, in the famous arena scene, that the full 
splendor of his physical resources was shown. 
Standing alone in the amphitheater, he com- 
pletely filled the stage with the boldness of his 
action and the thunderous vigor of his declama- 
tion. In challenging the onslaught of the wild 
beasts, his braggadocio was superb. In his un- 
willingness to execute a defenceless woman there 
was at first no jot of moral compunction, only a 
sort of professional disgust. But when he dis- 
covered that the intended victim was Neodamia, 
the one object of his affection, his appeal to the 
populace for mercy was thrilling in the wildness 
of its supplication, and his offer of universal 
combat tremendous in its ferocious arrogance. 
But he attained to even greater heights when, 
having at last resolved that it was more merciful 
to kill the girl than leave her to the lions, he 
recognizes in her the daughter for whom he had 
long been searching. He seemed the center of a 
veritable hurricane, a whirlwind, of emotions. 
Love, rage, fear, pity, desperation, succeeded each 
other with lightning rapidity, and all were de- 
picted with an energy that appeared exhaustless. 
This physical energy was a most impressive fea- 
ture in the exhibition, but the constant manifesta- 

172 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

tion of intellectual purpose and control was still 
more striking. There was no rant, no aimless, 
hysterical contortion or shrieking. The actor 
was always master of himself and of his art. 
I am not exaggerating. As I survey the theatri- 
cal firmament as I have known it, Salvini shines 
among the constellations velut inter ignes luna 
minores. 

I have selected these illustrations because they 
embody the more salient characteristics of his 
acting, as well as his personality. Of his other 
impersonations in this neighborhood I must speak 
briefly. Beside his Ingomar all other interpreta- 
tions of the part appear dull, prosaic, and puny. 
He filled it with the spirit of romance, barbaric 
humor, the passion of liberty, and the atmosphere 
of the forest. He increased the apparent value 
of the play by enriching the author's scheme with 
his own decorative detail, which is, of course, 
the legitimate function of the inspired romantic 
actor. The gradual subjugation and transforma- 
tion of the rugged, fierce, but generous and im- 
pressionable barbarian by the enchantment of 
love were signified by innumerable delicate grada- 
tions — a thousand little subtle artifices — of which 
even such a performer as John McCuUough was 
entirely incapable. In the more passionate 
scenes, it need scarcely be said, he was splendidly 

173 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

imposing and picturesque. As an example of 
realism, informed by artistic imagination, the 
mere process of his awakening from slumber in 
the first scene was a masterpiece. 

He was superb again as the Biblical Samson, 
a character which his vast bulk enabled him to 
assume with plausibility, presenting a most tragic 
picture of gigantic ruin and despair in his blind- 
ness and degradation. His acting in the final 
scene was inspirational enough to lend illusion 
to a theatrical scene of most distressful unreality. 
But the incident that stirred his audience to most 
enthusiasm was the relation, in the first act, of 
his fight with the lion, in which the vividness of 
his gesture made the rending of the beast almost 
visible. 

His Saul, in Alfieri's Biblical tragedy, I am 
sorry to say that I never saw. It was accounted 
among his greatest triumphs. His King Lear 
was a magnificent creation, but for various rea- 
sons failed to meet with the appreciation it de- 
served. In the first place, his support and the 
Italian version of the play were both irretriev- 
ably bad. In the second, his conception was very 
generally assailed by the critics as unmajestic 
and un-Shakespearean. There was a certain 
amount of truth in both these accusations. Un- 
doubtedly the actor was more concerned about 

174 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

the human attributes of the character than the 
regality of its manners. Possibly he reflected 
that Lear reigned in a prhnitive period, had 
grown old in authority, cared more for the sub- 
stance than the shadow, and was likely to carry 
himself with dignified simplicity, sure in the pos- 
session of prerogatives that had not yet been 
questioned. This was the attitude he adopted. 

As for the alleged un-Shakespearean quality of 
the performance, this charge really meant that 
it disregarded, or was in conflict with, many 
venerable traditional points and customs of the 
English stage — and it was true. But it does not 
in the least degree follow that the interpretation 
was therefore opposed to the spirit of the text 
Stage laws are not those of the Medes and Per- 
sians. As a matter of fact, there actually were 
many passages — ^none, however, of paramount 
importance — where Salvini missed the Shake- 
spearean meaning, for the simple reason that the 
Italian version was often, and for obvious rea- 
sons, so inadequate or misleading that, as he 
knew very little English, he had no means of 
divining it. This was especially the case in the dia- 
logues with the Fool, where many English actors 
have been hopelessly at sea. But all the leading 
essentials of the situation he grasped with per- 
fect comprehension and capability — from his own 

175 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Italian points of view. It may be freely admitted 
that his reading was foreign. He conceived an 
old, partly barbaric chieftain, hale, autocratic, 
and passionate, driven to madness and death by 
the treachery and usurpation of his unnatural 
daughters, and the torturing realization of an 
impotence brought about by his own folly, ex- 
posure, and despair. And this is Lear. In the 
opening scenes Salvini was far less tempestuous 
than most English actors. It was only by his 
slow, heavy tread that his king denoted age. He 
was gray, not white, and his voice had lost none 
of its resonance. He announced the partition of 
his kingdom with the curt decision of a man 
whose word was law and irrevocable. He chuckled 
good-naturedly at the exuberant protestations of 
(Joneril and Regan. When Cordelia declined to 
subscribe to them, he leaned backward on the 
throne and gazed at her in blank amazement. 
There was no explosion of passion, but, as she 
remained stedfast, the storm gathered on his 
brow, until, finally, he uttered his renunciation 
in low, deliberate tones, vibrating with inflexible 
purpose and mortal pain. Upon the protesting 
Kent he turned with a flash of fury, but checked 
himself and stood erect, motionless and formid- 
able, for many seconds, before he delivered the 
sentence of banishment with a Jove-like emphasis. 

176 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

The actor missed many ^^ points" and opportu- 
nities for applause, but it was evident that his 
restraint was the result of calculated design and 
in accordance with his view of the character. 
The tragic passion in Lear was not to find free 
vent until his wits began to turn. It was mani- 
fested with tremendous effect in the curse upon 
Gonerily while in the mad scenes there were 
lightning-like eruptions, in alternation with deli- 
cate strokes of senile hxmior or wistful pathos. 
Whether or not the interpretation was Shake- 
spearean, it was grand, imaginative, and pro- 
foundly affecting. Nothing could be more touch- 
Lag than his recognition of Cordelia or his lament 
over her corpse. The whole embodiment was 
worthy of association with this master work of 
human genius. 

In Hamlet Salvini was out of his element. He 
furnished a superbly romantic and melodramatic 
performance, and that was all. His Hamlet was 
essentially a man of action — although dilatory in 
the matter of his father's murder — of a fervent 
and passionate temper whose assumption of mad- 
ness was entirely feigned. Of the poetic and 
tender melancholy, the philosophic mood, the 
vacillating, perplexed nature, he suggested little. 
His Prince would never have wasted time in 
soliloquy, but would have gone straight back to 

177 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

the castle after his encounter with the Ghost and 
run the murderous King through the body. His 
own view of the character was presented with 
his usual brilliancy of design and execution, and 
was admirable as a bit of romantic acting, but 
never reached the soul of the matter. Somewhat 
similar criticism is applicable to his Macbeth. 
This, too, was magnificent in execution, but melo- 
dramatic and romantic rather than truly tragic, 
although evincing plenty of tragic power. The ex- 
ternal Macbeth was perfectly portrayed, not the 
inner. It was a brilliant, superficial study, im- 
plying an imperfect comprehension of the text 
This Macbeth was consistently bloody, bold, and 
resolute, and in inches and aspect a most impos- 
ing figure. He needed no spur to his intent. 
There was murder in his eye and voice when he 
warned his wife of Duncan's approaching visit. 
When he said, **We will speak further,'* it was 
with an expression of fixed resolve. His later re- 
fusal **to proceed further in this business" was 
prompted solely by desire to retain ** golden 
opinions." His **If we should fail" was purely 
speculative. When his wife unfolded her plan, 
he embraced her rapturously in admiration of 
her extraordinary qualities. His ** dagger 
soliloquy," thrillingly impressive in its rapt in- 
tensity, betokened superstitious wonderment 

178 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

rather than spiritual horror. In his description 
of the murder his vivid pantomime was masterly. 
In the banquet scene his superstitious fear was 
terrible^ but he quickly rallied when the vision 
disappeared. His closing scenes were played in 
paroxysmal moods of despairing ferocity. His 
impersonation was luridly pictorial — ^perfect in 
execution — ^but he did not give Shakespeare's 
Macbeth. 



179 



xin 

DEALING ESPECIALLY WITH EDWIN BOOTH 

In natural order of artistic precedence, Edwin 
Booth claims consideration after Salvini. The 
two were contemporaries and for many years 
Booth was the recognized leader of the American 
tragic stage. Less virile than the muscular For- 
rest, whom he succeeded, he excelled him in 
subtlety, brains, grace, and real dramatic fire^ 
while, at his best, he was superior to E. L. 
Davenport — a far more versatile performer — 
John McCullough, Lawrence Barrett, and other 
less prominent rivals. He owed his preeminence 
partly to inherited ability, partly to his early 
and arduous experiences in every known form of 
theatrical entertainment, from negro minstrelsy 
upward, and partly to his personal charm. To 
the public he was endeared by his misfortimes 
and his talents. 

Although a good many years have slipped away 
since he last graced the footlights, his life has been 
the subject of so much critical and biographical 
comment that his history and his art must still 
be fresh in the memory of most persons inter- 

180 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ested in the theater. To avoid mere repetition, 
I shall, in speaking of him, confine myself to 
some general personal impressions. 

He was a great but not, I think, a very great 
aotor, and a most accomplished artist, expert in 
all stage technique and artifice. His control of 
facial expression was remarkable. His counte- 
nance was handsome, pale, intellectual, and re- 
fined. Bis long black hair, large and luminous 
dark eyes, somewhat Hebraic nose, and strong 
mouth indicated a character both poetic and reso- 
lute. In frame he was not large, but well knit, 
nicely proportioned, and graceful; his voice was 
sonorous and melodious. In his early days he 
was somewhat addicted to the vice of ^^ mouth- 
ing," but he conquered this, and afterward his 
elocution was singularly clear, crisp, and sig- 
nificant, trumpet-like in passionate declamation, 
soft, mellow, and flexible in moments of pathos. 
His voice had not the organ-like volume of 
Salvini's, but was a rich and beautiful instru- 
ment upon which he played with great skill. 

When I first saw him he was in the fulness of 
his prime and his popularity. His famous en- 
gagement at the old Winter Garden, and his dis- 
astrous but brilliant enterprise in his own theater 
in Twenty-third Street — a temple long ago de- 
molished — ^were ended. He had outlived the 

181 



V 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

blasting effects of his mad brother's crime, and 
recovered from injuries in a carriage accident 
which once threatened to disable him permanently. 
A long era of prosperity and honor, on both 
sides of the Atlantic — sometimes sadly darkened 
by peculiarly cruel domestic troubles — ^was be- 
fore him. In his life the sweet and the bitter 
were mingled in almost equal porportions; and 
there can be little doubt that his private aflMc- 
tionSy most courageously endured, added to his 
artistic temperament that touch of grave and 
tender melancholy so well suited to his Hamlet 
and some other impersonations. 

They never dampened the artistic fire in him^ 
but they may, perhaps, have been partly account- 
able for the strange indifference which, In his 
middle career, he showed to the capacity of the 
support which he received upon the stage. I 
saw him in everything that he played from 1875 
up to the date of his retirement, and — until he 
came under the management of Lawrence Barrett 
— I can not recall any occasion upon which he 
was surrounded with a decently adequate cast. 
The tacit assent which he gave to some of the 
worst features of the star system was deplorable. 
His own brilliant work helped to keep the literary 
drama upon the stage, but left it desolate when 
he departed. 

182 



SIXTY YEABS OF THE THEATER 

It is as the representative Hamlet of his day 
that he is now, perhaps^ chiefly remembered, and 
beyond all question this was an exquisite bit of 
artistry. Personally I have always been inclined 
to award the palm to the early embodiment of 
Charles Fechter — except in the matter of oratory 
— as more nearly fulfilling the Shakespearean 
ideal. It was more human, more consistent as 
a personality, if less cunning, less brilliantly cut, 
than Booth's. The latter's always seemed to 
me more ingenious than real, as does that of 
Forbes-Bobertson. It absolutely bristled with 
points, eadi of which seemed in itself absolutely 
sound and full of illumination as it was pre- 
sented, but which could not, when assembled, be 
made to harmonize. Physically it was a realiza- 
tion of the traditionally ideal Hamlet — dignified, 
courteous, meditative, and deeply sympathetic. 
In carriage and address it was superfine. In the 
talk to the players, the encounter with Eosen- 
erantz and Guildenstem, in the quizzical chat 
with the grave-diggers, the manner — ^whether of 
friendly condescension, shrewd reproof, or the 
cynically humorous — ^was always princely ; grave, 
deliberate, and delicately apt. 

It would be unreasonable to ask for a more 
satisfying exposition of these passages. The 
reading of the philosophic soliloquies — the **To 

1S3 



V 



SESLTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

be or not to be'* and **Wliat a piece of work,'* 
for instance — illuminated the beauty and the sig- 
nificance of the lines with the fullest radiance, 
while the delivery of **0h, that this too, too 
solid flesh, etc/' was most moving in its pathetic 
despair. The whole business of the play scene 
was charged with a tragic, or rather melo- 
dramatic, intensity that made it extraordinarily 
effective, while the fiery passion thrown into the 
inquiry, "Is it the kingf after the killing of 
Polonius, was electrical. All these individual 
episodes, and others — the renunciation scene with 
Ophelia, the ranting outburst at her grave, etc — 
were enacted with the keenest comprehension and 
ample power of execution, but yet exhibited 
radical discrepancies of character that in- 
terfered with absolute illusion. It was, to my 
mind, a mosaic of precious but ill-adjusted gems 
rather than a perfect jewel. 

In characters of heroic proportions, such as 
Macbeth, Othello, and Lear, Edwin Booth was 
barred from the supreme heights of illusion by 
physical limitations. He had a firm intellectual 
grasp of them, he had imagination and an 
abundance of nervous energy and intensity, but 
in the great crises of emotion lacked massiveness 
and grandeur. In these respects he was not the 
equal of Forrest, E. L. Davenport, or John McCul- 

1S4 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

longhy although superior to them in many others. 
Of the parts specified, he was most successful, per* 
haps, in Lear. This was a notably fine embodi- 
ment, dignified, picturesque, fiery, ingenious, and 
deeply pathetic in its forlorn misery. Oratori- 
cally it was often superb. The actor's perception 
was seldom, if ever, at fault, but he was unable to 
give full expression to his own ideal. He de- 
picted a wreck, but failed to indicate the colossal 
proportions of the original edifice. But his act- 
ing, in design and execution, was of a very high 
order. 

In the opening scenes his whole demeanor was 
venerable and royal. In imprecation he was 
torrential and intense, but not terrible. He ex- 
cited more pity for himself than fear for his 
daughters. He could not, like Salvini, assume 
the part of a Jove launching thunderbolts. His 
passion quivered with intensity, but was not over- 
powering. It was as the poor, crazed old wan- 
derer, with the rags of his majesty still clinging 
around him, in the scenes with Kent, Edgar, and 
the Fool, that he was most vital and poignant. 
His signification of an intellect shattered but 
not entirely destroyed, with its recurrent gleams 
of wisdom, authority, wistful humor, and venge- 
ful rage, was wonderfully adroit and natural. 
His recognition of Cordelia, on his awakening 

185 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

from madness, was one of the gems of his per- 
formance, a little masterpiece of natural pathos. 

The torments and rage of Othello were beyond 
him, but in the earlier acts of the tragedy he 
was admirable, if never great. He was a dig- 
nified, authoritative soldier, simple, unsuspicious, 
and loving. His love for Desdemona was ardent, 
but tenderly respectful. His address to the 
Senate was a model of frank, manly, modest, and 
persuasive utterance. The scene of Cassio's dis- 
missal he carried through in exactly the right 
spirit of angry military promptitude and out- 
raged friendship. And he was wholly successful 
— and artistically subtle — in the earlier manifes- 
tations of the growing jealousy fostered by the 
cunning devilry of lago. But his portrayal of 
the ensuing paroxysms of rage and anguish were 
deficient in power and sincerity. He could only 
suggest the moral and spiritual demoralization 
of which he was the victim. The murder, of 
course, he enacted in the sacrificial mood, and he 
did it impressively, with a fine admixture of 
compassionate tenderness and inexorable, fatal- 
istic resolution. In the closing incidents, notably 
in his heartbroken cry of **Fool, fool, fool!'* he 
played with fine effect. 

Nor did he rise to any lofty heights in Mac- 
beth, of which his impersonation was intellectual 

186 



SIXTY YEAES OP THE THEATER 

but not inspired. His murderons Thane satisfied 
neither the eye nor the imagination. It was only 
in the portrayal of the superstitions horror that 
'^ distils a man almost to jelly" that he was 
vividly realistic. Bnt even then his slight and 
quivering form betokened an abject cowardice 
incompatible with the character. His Macbeth 
was essentially a weak miEm, the tool rather than 
the accomplice of his wife, who went to the mur- 
der of Duncan rather as an assassin under com- 
pulsion than as a man whose ambition dominated 
his conscience, and whose waning scruples had 
been exorcised by a will more single than his 
own. In the dagger scene he was more pic- 
turesque and melodramatic than tragic. 

His best work was done after the murder. The 
remorse in his delivery of the lines on the ** mur- 
dered sleep" and his despairing cry, **Wake 
Duncan with thy knocking," was acute. He 
made, too, a splendidly eflfective, pathetic, and 
poetic point after the banquet scene, when he 
slowly took the coronet from his head and sat 
gazing at it with a look of unutterable wretched- 
ness and despair. The weaker elements of the 
character he threw into strong relief, the higher 
imaginative side he blurred. 

His Eichard II. must be accounted among his 
most notable artistic achievements, but when I 

187 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

saw him in the part he played in a miserably 
mangled version of the piece with the support 
of Angustin Daly's company, which was hope- 
lessly inadequate to the task. Scarcely enough 
of the text was left to make the chronicle even 
decently coherent or intelligible, the necessary 
personages being reduced to the condition of 
mere * ' feeders ' ' to Mr, Booth, who was the whole 
show. Not until the third act did he have much 
chance, but from then on his embodiment — it 
was a genuine embodiment — of the weak, fallen, 
wilful, haughty, and passionate King was re- 
markably subtle, finished, and striking. The part 
lay wholly within his range. His reception of 
Bolingbroke 's envoy was admirable in the dig- 
nity bom of despair. When bidden to descend 
to the **base court*' to meet his foe, his acting 
was most powerful. The biting sarcasm of his 
speech contrasted strikingly with the mock 
humility of his bowed form and the anguish in 
his face, and throughout the ensuing scene with 
his conqueror he vitalized complex emotions with 
extraordinary skill. It was a rare demonstration 
of histrionic art pursued under difficulties, and 
of the insufficiency of modern actors in old plays. 
In **The Merchant of Venice" Mr. Booth was 
seen at his best. He acted Shylock often, and 
elaborated his study of the part until it was a 

las 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

perfect picture, finished to the nails. The whole 
gamnt of the emotions of the old Jew lay within 
his artistic reach, and he played upon them with 
infinite certainty and dexterity. His portrayal 
was a most harmonious blend of racial prejudice 
and hate, insatiate avarice, dignity, craft, revenge- 
ful passion, and abject defeat. He made no 
pretence of elevating it with any touch of 
patriarchal or romantic nobility. In his normal 
state he was the substantial merchant, staid, 
hard, suspicious, alert, with a vein of cynical 
humor. In making his bargain with Antonio, the 
ultimate purpose of it was deftly concealed be- 
neath a veil of slightly transparent banter. His 
profession of amity was clearly conventional, but 
his emphasis was grimly jocose, not malicious, 
though the smile on his face was crafty. 

The ferocious element in him was not revealed 
until the street scene, in which his exhibition of 
mixed emotions — ^wounded avarice, rage, scorn, 
revengeful hate, and domestic grief — ^was master- 
ful. His * ' Let him look to his bond I ' ' was preg- 
nant with concentrated fury and savage anticipa- 
tion. In the trial scene his cool, stony, dogged 
inflexibility was of most deadly omen. His * ' Till 
thou canst rail the seal from off this bond,'* was 
given with imperturbable and assured insolence; 
his **Is that the law?" carried the very essence of 

189 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

amazed horror and incredulity. In his collapse 
every faculty of mind and body seemed paralyzed. 
He spoke in broken murmurs like a man in a 
bad dream. It was a complete and vital inter- 

^ pretation. One is inclined to apply to it the cer- 
tificate given to old Macklin's, ''This is the Jew 
that Shakespeare drew.'* 

That Booth could give fine expression to the 
nobler attributes of humanity, if not in their 
highest imaginative development, he proved 
abundantly by his Brutus and parts of his Othello 
and Hamlet, but it is nevertheless a fact that he 
was most triumphant in characters containing a 

V baser alloy. His alert manner, his flashing eyes, 
his crisp, somewhat metallic utterance, his capa- 
city for fierce passion, his general suggestion of 
an agile mentality, constituted a most valuable 
equipment for parts in which the intellectual pre- 
dominated over the moral or the sentimental. 

His lago has always, and rightfully, been con- 
sidered one of his masterpieces. In his later 
years it became a trifle stiff and labored, but in 
his prime it was the incarnation of smooth, eager, 
supple, and fathomless devilry. Entirely 
plausible, with no hint of venomous intrigue ex- 
cept in the soliloquies, it somehow seemed to be 
enveloped in an aura of evil. There was a sug- 
gestion of infernal enjoyment in the zest with 

190 



SESLTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

which he marked each progressive step in the 
fabric of his plot. A much more wary and less 
headstrong man than Othello might have been 
beguiled by his apparent honesty. His duplicity 
was altogether Machiavellian, exactly adapted to 
time and circumstance. His most pernicious lies 
to Othello — concerning Cassio's dream and the 
handkerchief, for instance — ^he administered in 
the most deceptive form, that of an involuntary 
confidence. Only at the last, when, bound, bleed- 
ing, and doomed to torture, he said, * * Demand me 
nothing: what you know, you know. Hereafter 
will I never more speak word," with a horrible 
gritting of clenched teeth, did he reveal himself, 
to his intimates, the callous and malignant fiend. 
It was a brilliant achievement, and some of 
its qualities could be traced in his Richard III, 
by all odds the best of his time, and the only one 
that reflected the intellectual power which that 
able but unscrupulous monarch undoubtedly pos- 
sessed. He played it, in the theater that was for- 
merly his own, in the condensed Shakespearean 
play — not the Gibber abomination — with Mrs. 
Waller as Queen Margaret and a fairly compe- 
tent cast. In the earlier acts his performance 
was most admirable. He really did personify a 
man with the brains to conceive and the audacity 
to carry out the monstrous policies ascribed to 

191 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

him. Lightning perception, prompt resolve, 
cynical hypocrisy, remorseless ambition, and in- 
domitable will were all denoted in his conception. 
In the scenes with Lady Anne, Bnckingham, and 
Clarence, and in the council chamber, the many- 
sided character and dangerous nature of the man 
were indicated with rare vividness and skill. Bnt 
in the later acts the impersonation degenerated 
into somewhat robustious melodrama. As a 
whole it was a memorable piece of acting. la 
recent days there has been nothing remotely oonir 
parable with it, except the first act of Irving 's 
Gloster. 

Curiously enough, Booth made some of his 
most imposing emotional displays in romantic or 
eccentric parts of second-rate caliber. His Biche- 
lieu, in Lord Lytton^s play, was, in spite of its 
inherent theatricality, a masterpiece of technical 
execution — full of dry humor, patriotic exalta- 
tion, paternal tenderness, craft, and mental 
vigor — and in the defiance of Baradas, the 
''awful circle" speech, rose to a height of dra- 
matic passion that was really magnificent. He 
was equally successful in that tricky, romantic 
drama of Tom Taylor, ''The Fool's Revenge'' 
("Rigoletto"), revelling in the part of the de- 
formed, sarcastic, and revengeful jester, Ber- 
tuccio, whom he endowed with bitter, agile, and 

192 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

malignant mockery. It is a showy but not a 
highly imaginative or difficult character, but in 
the scene in which, as a cruelly deluded suppli- 
cant, he batters at the door behind which are the 
ravishers to whom he has unwillingly betrayed 
his own daughter, he invested it with a tragic 
power and eloquence, rising to a perfect frenzy 
of agonized and pitiful fury and despair. 

He rose again to a wonderful pitch of baffled 
wrath as Sir Giles Overreach, in the last scene 
where the defeated schemer becomes the prey of 
his own savage passions, and gave an extraor- 
dinary melodramatic display as Sir Edmund 
Mortimer in the now virtually forgotten play, 
^'The Iron Chest. '^ 

He was a well-graced actor, if ever there was 
one, and by his personal achievement he fairly 
won the distinguished place which he will always 
occupy in the annals of the American stage. But 
for the literary and artistic theater itself, for 
the preservation or elevation of the art of which 
he was so able a professor, he did little or noth- 
ing. He was content, during the greater part of 
his career, to accept and profit by the conditions 
which were undermining and ruining it. Able to 
fill theaters by his unassisted genius and prestige, 
he acquiesced in a system devised to fill the 
pockets of stars and managers, and habitually 

193 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

acted with scratch companies of incompetent and 
untrained players, histrionic scarecrows. In this 
way he helped to discredit the masterpiece in 
which he shone. He left no disciples, no suc- 
cessor to take up his mantle when he discarded 
it. When he made his final bow the curtain — so 
far as the American stage was concerned — fell 
also upon the legitimate drama. Whether it is to 
be raised again time will show. 

Even popular actors are sometimes conscious 
of their own limitations. I am able to give an 
authentic anecdote in support of this assertion. 
It was recalled to my memory by the accidental 
discovery of a portrait of E. A. Sothem, who in 
his earlier days firmly believed that he was 
possessed of tragic genius. Bitter experience 
taught him that he was mistaken, and in time 
he could laugh good-humo redly over his juvenile 
delusion. He and Edwin Booth were great 
friends. One morning, in the eighties, they were 
discussing old memories in Sothern's rooms in 
the Gramercy Park Hotel. As Bpoth left I en- 
tered and Sothern repeated to me some of their 
conversation. **We were talking, '^ he said, 
*^ among other things, of Will Stewart, the old 
dramatic critic, and his capacity for apt and cut- 
ting definition. By way of illustration I quoted 
his remark about my Claude Melnotte, that it 

194 



SIXTY YEAHS OP THE THEATER 

'exhibited all the qualities of a poker except its 
occasional warmth. * I suppose, * * I added, * * that my 
performance was abont as bad as anything ever 
seen upon the stage. Ned chnckled quietly for 
a minute and then, with a quizzical smile, said, 
'You never saw my Eomeo, did you?* '' In- 
veterate joker as I knew him to be, Sothem's 
manner convinced me that he was reporting the 
incident in good faith. Some time after this he 
and ''Billy'* Florence, a kindred spirit, volun- 
teered to play Othello and lago at a benefit per- 
formance and disappointed a huge and expectant 
audience by acting with perfect seriousness and, 
of course, complete incompetence. They found 
abundant personal satisfaction, doubtless, in the 
fact that they had successfully sold both the 
tickets and the spectators. 



195 



XIV 

CHARLOTTE CUSHMAN, HELENA MODJESKA, 

AND BERNHARDT 

The name of Charlotte Cushman must not be 
omitted from any record, however desultory, of 
the American stage in the closing years of the 
nineteenth century, but I only saw her, in 1874, 
in three characters. Queen Katherine, Lady Mac- 
beth, and Meg Merrilies — and I can not, there- 
fore, pretend to any authoritative analysis of 
her art. These were among her most popular 
impersonations, and even in her decline she mani- 
fested extraordinary powers in them. When in 
the full possession of her vigor and fire she 
doubtless was very great. She had played 
almost everything in her time, was expert in 
every mystery of stage device, and, even in age, 
had an almost masculine force. Her speaking 
voice was abnormally deep, but flexible. It could 
utter melting notes or vibrate harshly with 
terrible passion. 

Few women have been so successful in male 
characters as she was in earlier days. She made 

196 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

a genuine success as Romeo and enacted Wolsey 
without incurring ridicule. In melodrama sihe 
could be terrible. In other words, she was an old- 
school actress, who excelled in many parts and 
was competent in nearly all. There was a cer- 
tain degree of * * staginess ' ^ — at any rate in her late 
maturity — about her acting, which made fre- 
quent revelations of calculated mechanisnou She 
was old-fashioned, deliberate, and certain. There 
never was the least doubt of the resonant and 
efficient quality of the stroke when she made it. 
Artful pauses — which never implied hesitancy — 
were followed by swift, bold, and perfect execu- 
tion. Each action was inspired and governed by 
an unfaltering intelligence. 

Her passions were heroic, her pathos more 
profound than delicate. She painted nearly 
everything with unmixed colors. Her designs 
were bold rather than subtle. Her Katherine, 
owing nothing to personal charm or splendor of 
habiliments, was a superb presentment of out- 
raged majesty, conscious of humiliation, but regal 
in every look and gesture, even as a supplicant. 
She completely dominated the stage in the court 
scene. In addressing the King she evinced re- 
spect, with an occasional note of reproachful 
tenderness, without any loss of dignity or any in- 
timation of a sense of being on her defense. In 

197 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

the allusion to her children her voice quavered 
with an apparently unmasterable emotion. Her 
challenge to Wolsey, ^'Lord Cardinal, to you I 
speak/ ^ rang with an imperial disdain. 

To the sarcasm in her subsequent interview 
with the two cardinal legates she imparted 
resplendent emphasis. The fine lines embodying 
her summary of Wolsey were beautifully de- 
claimed. In the death scene, the restlessness and 
querulousness of sickness and suffering were in- 
terpreted with minute and startling fidelity, but 
she never forgot that she was a dying queen, and 
her actual dissolution, though closely realistic, 
was purely pathetic. The whole embodiment was 
a piece of theatrical artistry which could not be 
duplicated anywhere on the English-speaking 
stage to-day. Nor, if she were yet alive, could 
she find such competent support — it was not 
brilliant — as was supplied to her by the Wolsey 
of George Vandenhoff or the King of John Jack. 

I do not believe that her conception of Lady 
Macbeth was the right one, but the power with 
which she realized it compelled admiration and 
wonder. It was melodrama **in excelsis.*' 
Founded upon the pattern left by Mrs. Siddons — 
which, doubtless, has lost many of its true out- 
lines in the course of several generations of sta«:e 
reproduction — it exhibited no characteristic trait 

198 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

of feminme nature except its occasional physical 
weakness. This Lady Macbeth was a splendid 
virago, more than masculine in ambition, courage, 
and will, more bloody, bold, and resolute than she 
wished her husband to be. She was the source 
and mainspring of the whole tragedy. 

She was inhuman, tetrible, incredible, and 
horribly fascinating. She resolved upon the 
murder of Duncan at the moment she heard of 
the prediction of the witches, and thereafter pro- 
ceeded toward it without hesitation or qualm. 
Her whole sanguinary purpose was revealed in 
the devilish emphasis of her **And when goes 
hence f Pity and remorse were unknown to 
her. She was clearly capable, as she declared, of 
taking children from her breast and dashing 
out their brains. After the murder she exhibited 
a momentary feminine faintness at the thought 
of looking upon the victims, but promptly rallied, 
went about her task with composed resolution, 
and was calmly scornful when she showed her 
husband that her hands were of the color of his. 
And this conception she maintained stedfastly in 
every changing scene. Even in her sonmam- 
bulism — a marvel of technical detail — the pathetic 
was absent. She was tormented by harrowing 
anxiety and dread, but not by remorse. 

There was small scope for her dramatic genius, 

199 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

of course, in such a part as Meg Merrilies, which, 
in the stage version, retains little of the romantic 
distinction it possesses in the imaginative pages 
of Walter Scott, But she invested it with a weird 
mysticism, rude dignity, and tempestuous pas- 
sion. Her performance was more valuable 
theatrically than important artistically. She 
created a powerful effect in her recognition of 
Harry Bertram, gave to the fortune-telling scene 
mystical significance and pathos, and her de- 
clamatory power was employed with rousing effect 
in the denunciation of Dick Hatteraick. The 
death was portrayed with solemn and pathetic 
realism. She bade farewell to the New York 
stage as Lady Macbeth, and the most dis- 
tinguished men in the community, representing 
art, commerce, letters, and the learned profes- 
sions, assembled to do her honor. 

It was in December, 1877, that Helena Mod- 
jeska, the Polish actress, made her first appear- 
ance upon the New York stage, after several 
brilliant engagements in the AVest. She labored 
under many disadvantages. She was unknown, 
she was a foreigner, she did not speak English 
well, and her art had a daintiness that appealed 
to the connoisseur rather than the mass; but 
it was not loni? before her genius won for her a 
prominent place among American stars. 

200 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

She was one of the really great actresses of 
her era. In my own mind I have always ranked 
her very little, if any, below Sarah Bernhardt. 
The latter, nnquestionably — ^being physically far 
more powerful than her Polish rival, speaking 
in her own tongue, and possessing an incompar- 
able voice— <K)uld rise npon special occasions, as 
in **Phedre,^' to peaks of tragic expression to 
which Modjeska could not attain; but, on the 
other hand, Modjeska, great in classic tragedy, 
like Bernhardt (if not altogether so great), was 
her equal in the modem social emotional drama, 
while in romantic poetic comedy she was peerless 
in characters entirely outside the sphere of 
Sarah's comprehension or talents. 

It is impossible, for instance, to think of the 
latter as Viola or Rosalind, nor could she com- 
prehend Ophelia or Juliet in their entireties. The 
exhibitions which the illustrious Frenchwoman 
gave in her later years in '* Hamlet" and 
^ ' L ' Aiglon, ' ' and those melodramatic falsities 
specially designed for the display of her his- 
trionic specialties by that master craftsman, 
Sardou, are not, I think, to be taken into con- 
sideration in any serious estimate of her true 
genius. They were often wonderful in their way, 
showed intermittently flashes of the rare, delicate 
inspirations of the earlier Sarah, but in the main 

201 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

were marred by manifest artifice and physical 
strain. Amazing in their vigor, they contributed 
to notoriety rather than fame. These things 
Modjeska could not have done; but in the legiti- 
mate realm of artistic and imaginative his- 
trionism her range was, I think, the wider. 

It was Stephen Fiske who first introduced her 
to the New York public, in **Adrienne Le- 
couvreur.*' Her Adrienne became a more highly 
colored and finished embodiment afterward, but 
from the first it carried a peculiar charm of girl- 
ish innocence, tenderness, and freshness, underly- 
ing the sophistication of the actress. Possibly 
her innocence was less cunning than the dove-like 
meekness which Bernhardt knew so well how to 
assume, but it had more in it of the simplicity 
of nature. She could not recite **The Two 
Pigeons" with the exquisite musical vocalism of 
the Frenchwoman, nor could she emulate the 
blasting fire and scorn with which Sarah made 
so powerful an effect in the clash with the 
Duchesse de Bouillon, but, with the truest artistic 
intuition, she husbanded her emotional resources 
in the early acts, constantly suggesting, however, 
the glowing sincerity of her hero worship for 
Saxe, and reserving all her energies for the 
delirium and despair of the concluding scenes, 
which she portrayed with ample power and most 

202 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

affecting pathos. It was a lovely, intensely 
sympathetic, and brilliant impersonation. 

In her Camille, again — a flagrantly artificial, 
and theatrical, and specions character, whose 
falsity is gross and palpable — she exhibited an 
artistry which sometimes gave it an aspect of 
plansibility. She played it with an abandon- 
ment which was at once reckless and refined. 
Without disguising the traits of her profession 
— ^her coquetry, though never vulgar, was bold, 
even had touches of audacity — she contrived to 
suggest that she was acting a part dictated by 
circumstances rather than inclination, and wore 
a yoke which, if she had learned to bear it 
easily, yet sometimes galled. She was not rude, 
as many Camilles are, even to De Varville. She 
tolerated him as a convenient but somewhat irk- 
some necessity. From Armand, at first, though 
clearly attracted to him, she seemed to shrink, 
as from a forbidden pleasure which she coveted 
but dare not entertain. It was a subtle touch, 
and it paved the way for her gradual transforma- 
tion from the professional siren to the woman, 
freed from the fetters that had bound her, and re- 
endowed with her original virtues and the capa- 
city for first love. Miracles of that kind are not 
worked nowadays, but she very nearly made this 
one credible. 

203 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Her reformed Camille, radiant with ecstatic 
happiness and love, was a fascinating creature. 
In the interview with old Duval, as she gradually 
comprehended the object of his visit, the very 
blood seemed to freeze in her veins. The extrem- 
ity of dumb misery has never been more 
pathetically depicted. Restrained sobs seemed 
to tear her soul. But here she was a strong 
woman, not a weak one. The spirit which she 
embodied was one of heroically unselfish self- 
sacrifice for lovers sweet sake, and she suggested 
the nobility of it, as well as the pain. In making 
her farewell from Armand, the heart-break in 
her hysterical laughter drew tears from eyes 
unused to the melting mood. Her impersonation, 
though very different from those of Clara Morris, 
Eleanora Duse, or Sarah Bernhardt, would stand 
the test of comparison with any one of them. 

Her broken English, her lack of youthful charm 
and of such physical power as was exhibited by 
Adelaide Neilson, prevented her Juliet from 
achieving a great popular success. In some of 
the stormier passages she was barely intelligible. 
But artistically her impersonation was a delight; 
graceful, girlish (in everything but feature), 
poetic, ardent, and, at the last, entirely tragic. 
It was a fine, glowing, sjonmetrical interpreta- 
tion of the text and spirit of the poet, and ex- 

204 



SrKTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

qnisitely refined and delicate. She met Borneo 
in the balcony scene with the simplicity of a love 
too noble and too innocent to affect concealment 
or fear misinterpretation. In gesture and atti- 
tude she was beautifully picturesque and elo- 
quent. This Juliet had dignity without hauteur, 
affection without fussiness, and tenderness with- 
out sentimentality. In the potion scene she was 
often indistinct, but her frenzy was thrilling, and 
as she flung herself into a chair, after her vision 
of the chamel house, and sat there, statue-like, 
with blanched face and staring eyes, her simula- 
tion of horror was so vivid that elocutionary de- 
fects were forgotten. The whole performance 
was a delicious bit of romantic and poetic ideali- 
zation. 

Her Rosalind — in delicate imagination and 
poetic quality — ^was by all odds the best that it 
has ever been my fortune to see. Undoubtedly 
it failed to satisfy all the traditions of the Eng- 
lish theater. It lacked a certain robustness of 
person and humor; the temperament, perhaps, 
was a trifle too mercurial for the quiet air of 
Arden; the type and tongue were not British. 
But it was arch, tender, elegant, intellectual, 
highly bred, and womanly, perfectly consistent, 
and executed with a technical perfection possible 
only to the complete artist. Her byplay in the 

205 



SESTt YEARS OF THE THEATER 

love Boenes with Orlando was admirable, wholly 
appropriate, and spontaneons. There was the 
highest skill in the manner in which she betrayed 
to fhe audience only the palpitating emotions of 
the woman, while presenting to Orlando nothing 
bat the waywardness of a f ancifnl boy. The 
double simulation was maintaiaed with an in- 
errant snrety. The only actress in modem 
times who might have equalled or excelled her in 
the character was Ellen Terry, and she, alas I 
was never permitted to assimie it It should be 
added that Modjeska, after a lapse of four years, 
was far more practised in the English speech 
than when she first played Juliet Her foreign 
accent was, in some respects, a drawback, be- 
yond question, but it also added a piquant sest 
to her sprightly utterances and, in so fanciful a 
piece, ruined no illusion. 

Ellen Terry *s Viola, in ** Twelfth Night, '^ we 
have seen, and Modjeska ^s, if not superior to it, 
was in all respects its equal, except, of course, in 
the pronunciation of the text. If the English 
woman had the more bewitching personality, 
Modjeska had the stronger creative and 
imaginative faculty. Her Bosalind, Viola, and 
her Portia (which came later) were all distinct 
personalities. Her Viola was presented amid 
most discouraging accessories of shabby scenery 

206 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

and indifferent actors. But she brought illusion 
with her. Her simulation of cold, f atigne, and 
fear lent realism to a sea-coast which looked like 
anything else in the world. She was charming 
in her scenes with Orsino and Olivia, and right- 
fully played the duel scene with Sir Andrew in 
the spirit of high comedy instead of in the mood 
of rollicking burlesque in which most actresses 
of the part indulge. She acted as a timid but 
not spiritless woman, fearful of betraying her 
sex, would be likely to act in such circumstances. 
In technical skill Modjeska was surpassed by no 
actress of her day. In intellectual grasp, clear- 
ness of conception, distinction of manner, and 
skill in portraying the more delicate graces and 
traits of feminine nature, she excelled all but 
one or two of them. 



207 



XV 



FANNY JANAUSCHEK. WHO ENDED IN TRIBU- 
LATIONS, AND MARY ANDERSON, WHO 
NEVER KNEW ANYTHING BUT 
POPULAR ADORATION 

In the list of actresses of foreign association 
who became permanently associated with the New 
York stage, the name of Fanny Janaoschek must 
not be forgotten. Her story was a sad one. After 
enjoying the sweets of fame and prosperity for 
many seasons, she fell upon evil days, through 
no fault of her own, and was doomed to taste the 
bitterness of popular neglect and poverty in her 
old age. 

She was nimibered among the greatest tragic 
actresses of Europe when she first visited Amer- 
ica nearly fifty years ago, and was reputed to 
have the finest collection of presentation jewels — 
tributes of princes and potentates to her genius 
— in the possession of any stage artist. That 
may or may not have been true, but that she her- 
self was an artistic jewel of great brilliancy and 
worth is beyond all peradventure. It was in char- 
acters of the heroic type that her artistic powers, 

208 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

backed by superb physical qualifications, were 
displayed to their fullest advantage. 

Her face was strong and expressive, her voice 
deep, full, and vibrant, her port majestic, and 
her vigor great. Of the technique of her art she 
was a perfect mistress, and her versatility was 
remarkable in all characters compounded of 
strong intellectual or emotional elements. Neither 
by temperament nor disposition was she fitted 
for the softer, seductive heroines of modern 
social comedy. 

It was in great dramas that she shone, and 
when they disappeared from the stage her oc- 
cupation, like Othello *s, was gone. After holding 
a high seat among the queens of tragedy, she 
was, in her declining years, reduced to the neces- 
sity — as a mere means of livelihood — of appear- 
ing in the cheaper kinds of melodrama, which 
she often made extraordinarily effective by her 
still undimmed dramatic genius. No matter what 
the nature of her surroundings, she was a grand 
artist to the last, but the spectacle of her great 
abilities waisted on unworthy purpose was a 
melancholy one. 

She made her first appearance on the stage of 
this country in the character of the mythical 
Brunhilde — in which she had long been famous 
in Europe — acting in German. Among her com- 

209 



SIXTY YE-\RS OF THE THEATER 

patriots in New York and elsewhere she aroiued 
the greatest entliusiasp:, but in those days Qer- 
man audiences were smaller than they are now. 
So she set to work to study Engliah, and in course 
of time became a full-fleJged American aotresB, 
speaking English with a strong gnttnral accent^ 
indeed, but with safficient deamesB and admirable 
emphasis. 

Of all her parts, it was in Bmnhilde, perhaps, 
that she found the widest scope for her powers. 
She endowed it with a majestlo dignity and 
thoroughly heroic passion. Her imperious car- 
riage, fiery declamation, and nohle gesture con- 
tributed to a most imposing and pioturesqae 
effect. By sheer force ot the finest romantic 
acting she realized the grandeur of the mythical 
personage. Iler greatest triumph was won in 
the third act, in the scene with Siegfried where, 
in the hope of kindling in him a responsive passion, 
she recalls to his memory the day when he slew 
the dragon. She vitalized the situation by her 
intense enthusiasm. She seemed inspired, en- 
tranced ; love glowed in every glance of her eyes, 
thrilled in each note of her voice. The change 
wrought in her by the laughing denial of Siegfried 
that he had ever loved her was wonderfully 
dramatic. She was transfigured by a wrath that 
appeared to blast her. The bloom of ripe woman- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

hood seemed to wither, and she was left rigid and 
awful, with the brow and eye of a Medusa. It 
was an effect which only a great actress could 
create. And she was scarcely less impressive in 
her agony over her discovery of Gunther's treach- 
ery and her own disgrace, or in the stony calm 
of the despair with which she resolved to kill 
Siegfried and herself. Throughout the conclud- 
ing acts she maintained the tragic emotion at a 
high pitch of tension with rare fertility of re- 
source and really wonderful nervous and physical 
power. 

As might naturally be expected in the case of 
an actress of her temperament, physical powers, 
and period, Janauschek in her Lady Macbeth was 
influ^ced by the traditions she found here, and 
especially by the example of Cushman. But she 
was far too great an actress to copy anybody 
servilely. Her interpretation, fully as strong if 
less savage than Cushman 's, manifested the re- 
deeming quality of feminine devotion. Her Lady 
Macbeth was murderous in her ambition and 
energetic in the prompting of her husband to 
murder, but she loved him passionately and, in 
her own tigress fashion, tenderly. She indicated 
this trait constantly, and emphasized it by a 
peculiarly fine stroke in the banquet scene, when, 
with a beautifully compassionate gesture, she 

211 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

drew the head of the conscienGe-stricken Thane 
to her bosom, us if to shut out his vision, and 
held it titere, while she tamed upon the audienee 
a face bloocQess, drawn, and lined with despair- 
ing pity. 

It was as if, at that moment, she first fnUy 
realized the d^th and horror of the impending 
rain, and her own share in the vaulting ambir 
tion that had made it inevitable for both. And 
in the sleep-walking scene she indicated the 
anguish of remorse as well as the intolerable 
strain of anxiety, exhaustion, and dread. If less 
striking than Oushman's in its exhibition of 
imperious, conscienceless, and indomitable will, 
her unpersonation was not inferior in general 
firmness of execution, while it was a trifle less 
inhuman. It was a superb adiievement. 

She could sound the depths of pathos as well 
as she could scale the heights of passion. Her 
Mary Stuart was as affecting as it was queenly. 
But, for some reason not easily explained, her 
essays in the standard drama were less suc- 
cessful financially in New York than else- 
where, although they always excited enthusiasm 
in the theater and received the warmest critical 
appreciation. 

In her selection of modem plays she was 
singularly unfortunate. She made remarkable 

212 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

displays of varied abilities in wretched pieces 
whose absurdities not even her genius could miti- 
gate. A concoction called ' ' The Doctor of Lima ' ' 
was a perfect miracle of ineptitude, but the 
pathos with which she filled her own part was 
supreme. While she was on the stage the 
audience was sympathetic and tearful; when she 
was **off'Mt was shaken with irreverent laughter. 
Once she enacted Jacques in a freakish feminine 
performance of **As You Like It,*' and — in 
spite of an appalling and ludicrous make-up — 
she stirred a bored audience to genuine en- 
thusiasm by her fine reading of the part. 

For many years she was most prosperous in 
**Chesney Wold,'* a melodrama founded on the 
^'Bleak House'* of Charles Dickens, in which as 
Lady Dedlock and the viperish French maid, 
Hortense, she furnished a notable example of 
the range and perfection of her technique. There 
was nothing, of course, in either part — both en- 
tirely conventional figures — which presented 
much interpretational difficulty to an actress of 
her intelligence and imagination. All was plain 
sailing for her. But the unerring certainty with 
which she embodied the two distinct types, the 
one cold, hard, impassive — all frozen hauteur — 
and the other agile, mercurial, waspish, coquettish, 
and vindictive, was a striking demonstration of 

213 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

the executive efficiency conferred by long and 
diversified training, and by nothing else. In all 
their externals the two women were as far apart 
as the poles. Not for an instant was there the 
least confusion of identity. 

The theatrical effect was brilliant and com- 
manded (and deserved) the plaudits of the 
crowd, but actually made no exacting demands 
upon the sources of her dramatic inspiration. 
The nobler powers of the actress were revealed 
only in the natural pathos with which she human- 
ized her Lady Dedlock when the latter, in 
suffering, became simple woman. It was by this 
double impersonation that Janausehek was most 
widely known in lier riper years, and is now, 
perhaps, cliiefly remembered, but it contained 
very little of her true genius. 

Far happier was the lot of Mary Anderson, 
who, from the beginning to the end of her public 
career, was one of Fortune's darlings. Nature 
endowed her with rare beneficence. When, as a 
mere girl, she first entered upon the stage, she 
presented a figure of classic and virginal purity 
that was almost ideal. Her tall, lithe form was 
at once stately and graceful, the poise of her 
head was stag-like, and her face was radiant 
with health, innocence, and dignified beauty. It 

214 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

was by the spell of her personal charms that she 
instantly made her way into the heart of the 
American public, and she retired to a happy and 
prosperous privacy when still at the height of 
her popularity, while that spell was yet potent. 
A finer type of young American womanhood 
could not easily be imagined. Like Lady Teazle, 
**bred wholly in the country,'* she was accepted 
at once as the representative American actress 
of her time, was fondly called "our Mary,'* and 
quickly became the object of a widespread affec- 
tion and admiration that might, without much 
exaggeration, be called national. As a novice 
she was placed by her worshipers on a pinnacle 
from which she was never deposed. Her memory 
is still surrounded by a glamor which nd one 
could wish to dispel. Her beauty, her spotless 
character, her graciousness, her intelligence, her 
refined manner, and her unquestionable dramatic 
instinct and ability contributed greatly to the 
honor and glory of the American stage while she 
adorned it; but for all that, she was never a 
great actress or a great artist. She does not 
belong in the same category with Charlotte Cush- 
man, Janausehek, Modjeska, Clara Morris, or 
Edwin Booth. 

In her early days, when she was first ac- 
claimed as a great genius, she was manifestly a 

215 




SIXTY YKAHS 01' THE THEATER 

tyro, hastily ami imperfectly drilled, crude WB^ 
spasmodic in action, L)ut armed with fascinatio^l 
courage, ambition, and a remarkable facnlty oSl 
declamation. Her voice was always one of tlw/i 
most potent weapons in lier artistic annoiy. Ik 
was a rich contralto, thoroughly feminine, bntj 
uncommonly full, deep, supple, and melodioiu. 
She knew how to avail herself of its finest tones, 
and consequently her delivery of blank verse 
was not always proof against the charge of 
monotony — but -she often employed them to splen- 
did purpoi^e. As f^he gained experience she grew 
in power of emotional expression and was able to 
reinfoivo voi'al richne.-s with that inner throb of 
fet'lini,' that imi>lips, if it does not necessarily 
denote. Inspiration, l>ut she never succeeded iu 
idfiitifyin^ herself with any of the first- rate 
traijeily i>arts whii,-h she un.lertook. Xow and 
again, where she could bring all her natural gifts 
into full di>i>lay. she nuule some admirable points 
and was, for the moment, wonderfully pic- 
tiiresiiuc. imposing, majestic, or appealing. But 
she exhilutc'l — I am speaking now of tragedy 
or deeply emotional parts — little versatility in 
motiiod or variety of resource. 

She had certain formulas in which she wu 
protii-'iont. and she applic'l them to corresptmd- 
iug types of situation with a deadly and mw 

216 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

modified reiteration. In the mechanism of her 
art she never advanced beyond a moderate pro- 
ficiency. What she had learned to do she did 
well, but her executive ability was rigidly limited. 
It ceased to expand. In it she revealed neither 
invention nor ingenuity. She was always, solely 
and inevitably, Mary Anderson, and she reached 
her artistic boundaries when she had learned to 
express herself freely and fully. Thus she 
created no illusion of character, and was only 
fully successful when her part fitted her like a 
good glove. She had intelligence, a liberal mea- 
sure of capacity, a sure comprehension of the 
finer feminine instincts and feelings, but she 
had not genius. In great parts, demanding 
imagination, passionate eloquence, or subtle dis- 
crimination, she was second-rate. 

It is not necessary to dwell long upon her high 
tragic experiments, or even to mention all of 
them. Her Juliet was charming in the earlier 
acts, a little lacking, perhaps, in romantic color- 
ing, but exquisite in its virginal faith and in- 
nocence. In the tragic climaxes it was impressive 
only in its picturesqueness and vocal power. It 
was a sympathetic but uninspired performance. 
In Shell's Evadne, she was constantly beyond 
her depth in dealing with the complex emotions 
of the character, but her statuesque beauty, her 

217 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

sense of pose, and her declamatory vigor enabled 
her to fill the theatrical situations with con- 
siderable effect. In the final act she was at her 
best. In her white robes she was an ideal figare 
of maidenly grace, dignity, and purity. With 
her rich voice she gave the fullest value to the 
sonorous lines relating to the deeds of her an- 
cestoi*s, and her challenge to her royal perse- 
cutor was superb. She was fairly well suited, 
too, in the part of the Countess in Sheridan 
Ejiowles's stilted romantic play, **Love,'' where 
she demonstrated the conflict between pride and 
passion with striking alternations of haughty 
reserve and impetuous passion, but without much 
subtlety in the transitions. In the scene where 
she compels her lover, after encouraging him to 
a declaration of his passion, to sign a marriage 
contract with another, she did some really good 
acting, and in her final surrender she played 
with moving sincerity. She did excellent work, 
too, in the ** Fazio" of Dean Milman, a work of 
notable literary and tragic power. Her denun- 
ciation of her treacherous husband, her slow 
unveiling, and her horror and incredulity upon 
hearing the death sentence were all highly im- 
pressive but not electrical. 

In the fourth act, where she pleads for her 
husband's life, offering to surrender hinn to her 

218 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

rival, she comprehended the emotions perfectly 
and reached a fine pitch of tragic intensity. This 
was one of her best emotional achievements. For 
the part of Ion, in Talfourd's tragedy, she was 
imperfectly equipped, but in the earlier acts she 
enacted the youthful hero with a very successful 
concealment of her sex. In the second act, in the 
scene with Adrastus, she bore herself with an 
admirable admixture of tenderness, sadness, and 
resolution. In the later scenes she was scarcely 
successful in maintaining illusion, the emotions 
and manners of mature manhood being altogether 
beyond her capacity of simulation. 

When she rashly ventured to challenge com- 
parison with Charlotte Cushman in the character 
of Meg Merrilies, she not only offered a con- 
clusive demonstration of her own artistic in- 
feriority, but a curious lack of histrionic intuition 
in her failure to make legitimate use of her own 
physical qualifications. Witnessing her perform- 
ance, one would naturally suppose that she had 
never read **Guy Mannering/' Scott gives a 
minute description of his famous Gypsy Sybil. 
She was a masculine figure, six feet high, erect 
as a grenadier, with a voice like a man's. Mary 
Anderson, who had the stature, and the vigor, 
and the voice, chose to depict the formidable Meg 
as a withered, bent, and tottering old crone. The 

219 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

assumption of old age — which is not diflScult — 
was not badly done, but by this wilful or ignorant 
misrepresentation she robbed the character of 
its proper material dimensions, which she could 
have supplied, as well as its spiritual significance, 
which she could not. Dramatic genius could never 
so flagrantly abuse an opportunity. What would 
not Cushman have given for those additional 
inches! 

In the parts which really suited her — ^whose 
component elements were those of her own tem- 
perament and personality — Mary Anderson was 
wholly delightful. Her Galatea in W. S. Gilbert's 
admirable ** Pygmalion and Galatea*' was a 
charming performance, which reflected the spirit 
of the author in its various moods of humor, 
sarcasm, and pathos with delicate and artistic 
fidelity. As the statue she was so lovely an 
example of pure classic grace that the infatua- 
tion of Pygmalion was no cause for surprize. 
Her awakening to life was an exceedingly deli- 
cate and imaginative piece of pantomime. The 
naivete of her innocence was perfect, pure un- 
sophisticated curiosity and bepuzzlement, irre- 
sistibly true and piquant, without the slightest 
trace of artifice. Her timid, questioning, re- 
flective, unsuspicious air, and her grave, gentle, 
tuneful voice, were all beautifully appropriate. 

220 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Her treatment of the episode of the wounded 
fawn was exceedingly clever and veracious, full 
of tenderness and pity, and delightfully natural 
in its childlike shrinking from the notion of 
annihilating death. The enbodiment was a most 
felicitous combination of the human, the poetic, 
and the idealistic. It could have been furnished 
only by a clever, refined, and good woman. Her 
Parthenia, in "Ingomar," was a performance of 
the same type, marked by the same methods. It 
was an older Galatea, with a little more sophisti- 
cation, a little more of the purely human and 
feminine, but the same spell of virginal fresh- 
ness and innocence. A third impersonation which 
will always be cherished in the memories of 
those who saw it was her Perdita, in **The 
Winter's Tale,'* instinct with the spirit of the 
springtime, buoyant with the joy of life, mani- 
festing its happiness in a dance which was the 
very poetry of motion. In these three parts 
Mary Anderson found herself, in more senses 
than one, and they were the masterpieces of her 
theatrical gallery. 



221 




XVI 

LAWRENCE BARRETT, JOHN McCULLOUGH, 
EDGAR L. DAVENPORT, JOSEPH JEF- 
FERSON, AND OTHERS 

John McCullough was inferior to Barrett in 
character, in intellect, in subtlety, in ambition, 
and in range, but he was a good actor, within 
restricted limits, of heroic parts, for which nature 
had bestowed upon him the physical qualities in 
which Barrett was deficient. He was a man of 
noble presence, of powerful build, with bold 
Roman features and a voice that had in it the 
ring of the trumpet. A disciple of Forrest, he 
emulated the methods of his exemplar with con- 
siderable success, and in stormy bursts of passion 
he exhibited vast power. Moreover, he could 
assume a lofty dignity in which Forrest was lack- 
ing, and had a notable mastery of virile pathos. 
He excelled in broad strokes, in the vivid con- 
trasts between raging passion, portentous calm, 
and the inner convulsions caused by repressed 
emotions. But he was not an intellectual, imagin- 
ative, or analytical performer. In great parts he 
was only second-rate. In Lear, for instance, he 

222 



SIKTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

cotild stir his hearers to enthusiasm by the mag- 
nificent outbursts of passion which seemed to 
shake the theater, and in the concluding scenes 
he depicted the pitiful state of the forlorn old 
king with simple and genuine pathos, but his 
impersonation as a whole, though theatrically 
effective, had neither grandeur nor subtlety. It 
was not Lear. 

His Othello was an imposing and martial 
figure, with authority in voice and mien and 
all the external indications of the ^^ frank and 
noble nature'* with which lago credited hiuL 
And his ** waked wrath'' was terrible. This 
was the best of his Shakespearean embodi- 
ments, and in respect of adequate passion was 
superior to that of any other contemporary Eng- 
lish-speaking actor. But it was only in storm and 
stress that it was remarkable. In detail it was 
crude, unimaginative, unfinished, a bold free- 
hand sketch rather than a completed study. In 
his Macbeth, again, it was the physical prowess 
that was the dominant feature. His Eichard III, 
in the Gibber version, was a bit of lurid melo- 
drama. There was much merit in his Coriolanus, 
a part for which he had every physical qualifica- 
tion, but it was an unequal performance, often 
marred by an exaggeration in which passion be- 
came rant, and sarcasm vituperation. But he 

223 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

was a striking picture of patrician pride, courage, 
and contempt when he faced the mob excited 
against him by the Tribunes, and his **I banish 
you I'* was delivered with superb scorn* 

His Virginius, in Knowles's tragedy, was his 
most notable achievement. In this he approached 
greatness very closely. The part, compounded 
of powerful but simple emotions, lay completely 
within the compass of his abilities, and called all 
the best of them into requisition. Soldierly dig- 
nity, grave humor, paternal tenderness, manly 
rage, and the frantic despair of a strong man 
were denoted by him with masterly simplicity 
and truth. His enactment of the Forum scene 
was heroic in its proportions. In the sacrifice 
of his daughter, the tenderness of the fond father 
and the spirit of the ancient Roman were most 
skilfully blended, and in the closing scene of 
madness and despair he manifested more sub- 
tlety than was common with him. In this part he 
was facile princeps among his contemporaries, 
and there is no American actor now who could 
equal him in it. He excelled also in some pas- 
sages of John Howard Payne's tragedy of 
Brutus. Of Richelieu he comprehended little but 
the melodrama. In such parts as Spartacus, Jack 
Cade, and Metamora he delighted the galleries 
with his vocal and bodily vigor; but mere brutum 

224 



SIKTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

fulmen is not acting. He stood shoulder high 
above most of his associates, but he was a giant 
only when among pigmies. 

Of Edgar L. Davenport some mention has been 
made already. His day had passed when the 
sun of McCullough was at its meridian. He had 
not the personal preeminence or rugged strength 
of the younger man, but he, too, possessed fine 
physical attributes and he was a more in- 
tellectual and more accomplished actor. If he 
had not genius, he had keen and comprehensive 
histrionic intelligence, and his large experience 
in almost every variety of drama had made him 
singularly proficient in executive mechanism. His 
adaptability was remarkable. His Hamlet, sec- 
ond only to Booth *s, was an exceedingly able per- 
formance, princely, thoughtful, tender, gravely 
humorous, sympathetic, and, in the crises, finely 
passionate. The text he read with scholarly and 
eloquent discrimiQation. His Othello revealed a 
much larger insight than McCullough *s and was 
stronger in the elemental passions than Booth *s. 
Of the mystery of Macbeth he exhibited a firm 
psychological grasp. His Lear I never saw; but 
once, when by a happy chance he supported 
Booth in that character, he proved an iDcom- 
parable Edgar. 

Once, for his benefit, he played Hamlet and 

225 



SrXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Williiim in "Black Eyed Smaiij" enacting tiw 
gallant tar in the most approved (theatrical) 
nautical style and dancing a horii-pipe with con- 
summate skill and agility. His Bill Sjlcea was 
one of the most terrific exhibitions of savage 
blackguardism ever witnessed on the stage, while 
only Booth coiild excel him in the oraft and 
finesse of Kichelieu. His Sir Giles Overreadi 
was generally admitted to be tha hest upon the 
stage. In the final act it reached a pitch of pas- 
sion that was maniacal. In "Jnlins Onsar" be 
was a splendidly dignified and magnammons 
Brutus. He was a sterling actor and artist-iHio, 
ill thc^e later days, would be considered a para- 
gon, but it was his ill-fortune to be somewhat 
overshadowed, the fates were not ahrays pro- 
pitious to him, and he never won the full recog- 
nition that he deserved. 

. In the period of which I have been writing 
Joseph Jefferson was already one of the most 
prominent Inminaries in the theatrical firma- 
ment. For nearly half a century he basked in 
the sunshine of prosperity. No comedian, per- 
haps, has ever been the object of so mndi critical 
praise or popular affection. His memory is still 
fresh and fragrant, while his public triumphs 
and his private life and character have been the 
subject of innumerable publications. I can add 



SIKTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

nothing to the records of his career, and a sum- 
mary of them would be wholly superfluous and 
tiresome. Only one question concerning him re- 
mains to be decided, and that relates to the posi- 
tion to be assigned to him in the ranks of his 
profession. Everybody knows that he reflected 
honor upon it, that his life was an illustrious 
example of purity and honor, that he was a de* 
lightful gentleman, humorous, gentle, genial, re* 
fined, generous, and artistic, and that Jie was in 
many ways a master-workman in his craft. All 
these things are generally admitted. I would not 
disturb a leaf of the laurels deposited upon his 
monument. But — ^there is nearly always a but — 
I do not believe that he is, in the final estimate, 
entitled to a place among the really great actors 
of history. 

He had not the gift of impersonation, as is 
proved by the fact that he produced but one 
masterpiece, his Rip Van Winkle, which was ex- 
quisite. I will subscribe readily to all the critical 
appreciations that have been heaped upon that 
achievement. As a realization of an ideal — an 
ideal, it must be remembered, which in itself was 
radically false in nature, though that hard fact has 
nothing to do with the execution of it — ^his por- 
trayal was unsurpassable in delicacy of draw- 
ing, in glamor of romantic coloring, in irre- 

227 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

pressible light-heartedness, in tenderness, quaint 
humor, and wistful pathos. It was, on the sur- 
face, so absolutely true and vital, so irresistibly 
human, that, no matter how often it was seen, 
it never palled. And yet it was only ip, a 
limited sense a creation. In manner, as in senti- 
ment, it was primarily and largely an expression 
of the actor *s personal individuality. This Eip 
was not the drunkard of Irving, who was of in- 
finitely commoner clay. The actor divested the 
part of its coarser element — the play itself was a 
clumsy bit of patchwork — and altered it to fit his 
own moods .and instincts and to bring it well 
within the radius of his own means of dramatic 
expression. 

Virtually he acted it as he imagined he him- 
self would have behaved if he had been in the 
situation ascribed to Rip. Having outlined this 
conception he reinforced and embroidered it with 
every device of his theatrical art, until it at- 
tained the minute finish of a picture by Meis- 
sonier or Holman Hunt. It is not in this way 
that the great imaginative artist works, for he 
knows that the first requirement of interpretative 
creation is elimination of self. 

That Jefferson pursued this method is suffi- 
ciently proved by the fact that his personality, 
or that of Rip, predominated in all his other sub- 

228 



SIKTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

sequent impersonations. In parts so diverse as 
Caleb Plummer, Pangloss, and Bob Acres, the 
basic individualities were identical. This does 
not mean that they were all alike in ** business^' 
or action, but that they were, one and all, en- 
dowed with many identical characteristics 
peculiar to the actor. They were all unmistak- 
ably the same man in different guises. They 
differed in dress, in age, in behavior, very little 
if at all in personality. In innumerable little 
tricks of manner, in vocal inflections and intona- 
tions, in the familiar little chuckle and gasp, in 
facial play, in gesture, each was Joseph Jefferson. 
A similar criticism would apply, with equal 
truth, of course, to many players of high artistic 
repute. But that is not the point. The great 
majority of stage performers habitually enact 
themselves instead of the fictitious character, 
and often gain much credit in so doing. Some- 
times when the personality and temperament of 
the actor coincide, or closely harmonize, with 
those of the assumed character, the impersona- 
tion may be artistically satisfactory, even when 
the actor reveals no creative power at all. This 
frequently happens nowadays, when ** stars ^* are 
provided with tailor-made parts to show them off 
to the best advantage. It is even possible for an 
actor with a notable personality but very little 

229 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

creative power to play a great character greatly, 
as in the case, for instance, of McCullough and 
Virginius. But the true creative power — the pos- 
session of which, I hold, is the one infallible test 
of histrionic greatness — is only manifested when 
an actor can present a series of great or widely 
diverse characters without the obvious assertion 
of his individual self in any of them. Booth 
demonstrated this faculty in his Hamlet, Riche- 
lieu, and Bertuccio; Salvini in Othello, Conrad, 
and Saul; and other examples could easily be 
cited. It does not follow that all actors with a 
creative faculty must necessarily be great. 
Davenport was not great, but he was creative. 
He could play Sir Giles Overreach or Bill Sykes. 
E. A. Sothern was not great, but he created Lord 
Dundreary, and Fitzaltamont in **The Crushed 
Tragedian.'^ The quality of the creative power 
and of the greatness of the actor can only be 
estimated by the imaginative or emotional quality 
of the part and the effect of its interpretation. 

Now none of the parts in which Jefferson de- 
lighted his audiences could l)y any stretch of the 
imagination be called great. None of them 
sounded the heights or depths of emotion, lofty 
flights of imagination or passion, or demanded 
the exhibition of uncommon intellectual, moral, 
or dramatic power. They all lay within the 

230 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

limits of the middle register. All of them were 
played, and often very well played, by actors of 
no extraordinary capacity. There were many 
who preferred the Caleb Plummer of John E. 
Owens — ^there was certainly more of Dickens in 
it — and the Acres of George Giddens, to Jeffer- 
son's presentment of those characters. It is 
scarcely an exaggeration to say that Jefferson 
never really played Acres at all. He did not in 
the least resemble the unsophisticated British 
country squire, vainly aping fashionable man- 
ners, whom Sheridan sketched. He was delect- 
able, infinitely amusing, utterly unreal — Joseph 
Jefferson in delicious masquerade. Wherein 
then — if he was not a creator and could not or 
did not play great parts, and, therefore, was not, 
in the true sense, a great actor — is to be found 
the secret of Jefferson's popularity and famef 
The answer is easy. In his consummate artistry 
and his personal fascination. Whether or not he 
was conscious of the comparatively narrow 
boundaries of his dramatic powers does not much 
matter. 

It is sufficient to know that he made no serious 
effort to cross them. He was content, through- 
out the greater part of his long and active life, 
to play the characters which, in a very special 
sense, he had made peculiarly his own. In 

231 



SLXTV YEARS OF THE THEATER 
effecting Uiese persoDLfieationa he employed a 
technical akill which was as nearly perfect as 
anything in this imperfect world can be. His 
most intricate and delicate mechanism worked 
with flawless accuracy, precision, and smooth- 
ness. Everything that he said or did upon the 
stage appeared to proceed from the impulse of 
the moment, to be entirely spontaneons. It cost 
him long years of hard and varied stage work, 
in his youth, to acquire this mechanical pro- 
ficiency, but the investment of time and labor 
brought him an exceedingly rich reward. He 
earned it and deserved it, but that is no reason 
why he should be accredited with a genius he did 
not possess. 

In scribbling these desultory and discursive 
reminiscences I have tried only to touch upon 
those outstanding features in a vast mass of 
theatrical matter which may be of some present 
significance and interest. There has been no at- 
tempt at a complete record. The great majority 
of the plays between 1874 and 1884 were of no 
better quality than those of to-day — ^were not, 
perhaps, quite so good. They have long sunk 
into well-merited oblivion and may be permitted 
to remain there undisturbed. And I have c»n- 
fined myself to plays given in English, making no 
mention of Sarah Bernhardt, Eistori, or Bosai, 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

who belong to this period. They could scarcely 
be claimed for the American stage, and, in any 
case, they could not be properly treated in any 
amount of space that could now be spared for 
them. Bistori, after some brilliant triumphs in 
her native tongue — she was a magnificent artist 
— did, indeed, make some unfortunate essays in 
English, but with disastrous consequences. 

Of the Sarah Bernhardt of thirty-five years ago 
this much may be said, that she was a much 
greater artist then than she is to-day. I do not 
think that many of the leading English-speaking 
dramatic personalities have been overlooked, but 
there are some secondary figures which deserve 
a line or two of mention. W. J. Florence was a 
comedian of very nearly first-rate ability and 
genuine creative power. His Bardwell Slote, his 
Bob Brierly, and his Sir Lucius 'Trigger may 
be quoted as samples of his versatility. The 
lovely Adelaide Neilson won triumph as Amy 
Eobsart, and was successful as Beatrice in * ' Much 
Ado.'* Bosina Vokes, in farcical comedy, was 
one of the cleverest and most piquant actresses 
who ever adorned the stage. She had the most 
infectious laugh ever heard in a theater and a 
merry devil lodged in her eye. John S. Clarke 
was a most unctuous and mirth-provoking, though 
excessively mannered comedian. Daniel E. Band- 

233 



8IXTT TEARS OF THE THEATER 

maun, a brilliant bat uneven actor of romantic 
parts, attracted attrition and excited controversy 
with bis Hamlet, Sb7lo<^ and Nardsse. Mrs. 
John Drew, one of the most sterling comedians 
of ber time, was an ideal Mrs. Malaprop. Gene- 
vidve Ward, a forcible, intellectoal, but somewhat 
frigid actress, gave a brilliant performance of the 
advaitnress in ^'Forget Me Not,'' and won criti- 
cal commendation in ^^Jane Shore'' and ^^Mac- 
beth." Charles Wyndham, in his prime, played 
iSr light comedy with unflagging igqpirit and won- 
derM agility. And W. S. Gilbert came over to 
IHrodnce ^^Phiafore," ^'The Pirates of Penzance," 
and ^'Patience," and to illnstrate his notions of 
fitege mAnagemeni Few men have been so expert 
in ibis art He conld not only tell a performer 
w^hat to do, bnt show him how to do it And he 
persisted until he had his way. A well-known 
comedian, still living, rebelled against his tuition. 
**I have been acting, '* he said sarcastically, **for 
twenty years, and I should think that by this 
time I ought to know my business. '* **So should 
I, ' * said Gilbert. There was a quarrel among the 
chorus girls and one of them began to cry. 
** What's the matter, my dearf said Mr. Gil- 
bert, paternally. Pointing to her neighbor, the 
girl replied, **She says that I am no better than 
I ought to be!'' ** Never mind," said Gilbert; 
'*you are, aren't youT" 

234 



xvn 

IRVING AND TERRY 

It was in October, 1883, that Henry Irving, the 
undisputed leader of the English-speaking stage 
for many years, began his first and most mem- 
orable engagement on the New York stage. He 
paid us several later visits, in the course of which 
he made many notable productions, but none quite 
so good as those with which he first surprised 
and delighted the town. Even he could not make 
much headway against the progressive degenera- 
tion that had set in upon the stage, although he 
checked it for a time. His famous company — 
which at its best was not the equal of that which 
had in still earlier years supported Phelps at 
Sadler's Wells — was gradually weakened by 
death and other causes, and the best available 
new material was inferior to the old. The main- 
springs of his own artistic energies relaxed slowly 
under the strain which he imposed upon them, 
but in 1883 he was in the meridian of his powers 
and his fame, and for a season he revived the 

235 



y 



SIXTY YEAKS OF THE THEATER 
ancient glories of the stage and enriched them 
with a new luater. 

It wotild be difficult to exaggerate the value of 
his managerial services to the public and the 
theater. He reawakened popular interest in the 
legitimate drama, showed managers once more 
how Shakespeare conld be made to pay, dem- 
onstrated by financial success the efficiency of the 
artistic theater as a conamercial enterprise and 
the superiority of the stock over the star system, 
and gave a permanent uplift to the social status 
of the actor. He did for the poetic and romantic 
drama what Wallack's at its best did for literary 
artificial comedy. It ie true that the fabric he 
liad reared began to crumble before his death — 
when he was assailed by ill-health and a series 
of staggering misfortunes^and disappeared after 
it, but the effects of his example and of the high 
standards which he reestablished are still percep- 
tible, and he left possible successors and imita- 
tors, not only in his son, who seems to have 
inherited a considerable measure of his abilities, 
bnt in a group of rising young actors, chiefly 
reared in the school of F. B. Benson, who are 
trying to follow in his footsteps. 

It would be as presumptuous as it would be 
futile to attempt, within the prescribed limits of 
a paper of this kind, anything like a full synop- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

sis of his career, or a minute analysis of his intel- 
lectual and histrionic capacities. The main facts 
in his life are familiar to everybody inter- 
ested in modem theatrical affairs, and the minor 
details are easily accessible in published biogra- 
phies. To rehearse them here would be tedious. 
I shall confine myself, therefore, to a few general 
observations upon his work and his personal and 
artistic characteristics when in his prime. He 
was, in the exact sense of the word, extraor- 
dinary, as man, actor, and manager. His intellect 
was keen, his will indomitable, his ambition insa- 
tiate, his industry great, his energy almost inde- 
fatigable. Some authoritative critics credited 
him with great dramatic genius, others main- 
tained that he had none. The truth, as it is apt 
to do, lies between the extremes. Certainly, I 
should say, he could not rightfully be included 
in the category of such great actors as Salvini, 
Edwin Booth, Edmund Kean, Macready, and 
Phelps, but in many diverse characters he had 
moments when he came very near to greatness, if 
he did not attain it. He could no more keep his 
personal individuality out of his characters than 
Joseph Jefferson could, or Mr. Dick exclude King 
Charles's head from his memorial, but he could 
supplement it with traits and passions entirely 
foreign to it, yet appropriate to the fictitious 

237 



, SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

party in a maimer that dearly proved his inven- 
tivenessy his imaginatioii, and, in a certain degree^ 
his versatility. 

He sometimea fomished more of Irving than 
of the assumed eharaeter, bnt he was never Lrv- 
ing in masqomrade and nobody dse. Take him 
as a whole, snm him np in Ms threefold capa- 
oity as man, aetor, and manager, and his title to 
the possessorship of that spedal and often on- 
definable natural gift whieh is called genius could 
soaroely be gainsaid Beyond all question he had 
^ inftoite eapadty for taking pains. There was 
not a trid: in his trade which he did xuyt know 
and which he did not strive to master. When I 
first saw him act in London, more than fifty years 
ago, in a number of small parts, there was noth- 
ing particularly noticeable about him except a 
certain eccentric jerkiness in speech and action. 
Bnt he was thorough. I remember the famished 
haste with which he gulped down bread as Jeremy 
Diddler. He was stiff, awkward, laborious, but 
decisive. His mechanism was not yet as promptly 
responsive to his directiug intelligence as it 
became afterward. 

During the arduous years of his apprenticeship 
his progress was slow, but it was steady. It was 
not until he at last found his opportunity in 
^'Hunted Down*' and *'The Two Eoses'' that he 

238 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

revealed the power of subtle intellectual concep- 
tion that lay behind his eccentric and hitherto 
inflexible manner. When he first recited the 
** Eugene Aram*' of Tom Hood, his minute and 
vivid portrayal of a remorseful criminal, driven 
to frenzy by the pangs of a fearful conscience, 
was a revelation to his warmest friends and ad- 
mirers. He had found his true line. From Aram 
he proceeded to Mathias in **The Bells,'* which 
led him speedily to fame and fortune. 

A discussion of the question whether there was 
real genius in his acting, and if so, how much, 
would not be very profitable now. The critical 
camp, as has been said, is divided upon it. Person- 
ally, I do not think that he ever manifested a spark 
of the divine fire, certainly not in any of the 
great tragic characters that he attempted. Genius 
on the stage seldom takes long to ripen. He did 
not leap, at a bound, from obscurity to fame, as 
did Garrick, Talma, Edmund Kean, Salvini, and 
others. He worked his way slowly up from the 
bottom to the top, not by any abnormal power, 
but by virtue of his ambitious spirit, his rare 
intelligence, his artistic instinct, and his splen- 
did, self-reliant courage. The interpretation of 
passions in their more heroic or exalted forms 
was a task beyond his strength. Over the ordi- 
nary emotions he had more than a sufficient con- 

239 



SrSTT YEARS OF THE THEATER ^| 
trol, but ha was priiuarily au intelleetual rather 
than emotioiial aotor. He could charm by his 
deUoaoy, daaasle by his brilliancy, aud thrill by 
his intensity, but he could not overwhelm. He 
«onId be finely dignified and tender, as in Charlea 
1} T^ial, subtle, and pathetic, as in Lear, but not 
grand or awfnl; he eould be beautifully paternal, 
as in "The Vloar of Wakefield," but he could 
not play the romantic lover. Ilis Romeo waa a 
dUmal failure. It was in intellectual and eccen- 
tric oharacters, especially those in which there 
was B vein of sardonic humor or a taint of evil, 
that he was most successful, such as Mathias, 
Louis XI, lago, Malvolio, Eichelieu, Shyiodc, or 
Benedick. 

It was as Hathias in "The Belis," the part 
in which he first won celebrity, that he made bis 
debut in this country, and his performance ex- 
cited great enthusiasm and warm controversy. 
As he played it then it was, in its cleverness of 
conception, consistency, and progressive develop- 
ment of design, a masterpiece. The character, 
of course, is not a great one. It is a morbid 
but exceedingly effective theatrical study of a 
crafty, resolute, and nnsnspected murderer driven 
to despair and death by the spiritual anguish 
caused by hallucinations provoked by conscienoe. 
Psychologically, it is not scientific or importai^ 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Expert criminologists know that mnrderers of 
that stamp do not suffer or die in that way. But 
the design of the dramatist was to exhibit in 
theatrical pantomime the unavailing struggle of 
an unyielding will to defy the throes of an inap- 
peasable remorse, and Irving comprehended it 
perfectly and illustrated it with such a wealth of 
cunning, intellectual executive resource, such in- 
finite variation of facial play, expressive pose, 
gesture, and vocal inflection, that it became fas- 
cinating, harrowing, and plausible. 

In later years the impersonation became some- 
what feebler and overwrought, and so conveyed 
an impression of strain and artificiality. Actu- 
ally it was always the result of artful, delib- 
erate, theatrical calculation, a composition de- 
signed for effect, not for analysis, but in its 
earlier days it was performed with a rapidity, 
smoothness, and nervous force that gave it the 
semblance of spontaneous inspiration, especially 
when the actor was new to his audience and even 
his mannerisms assumed the aspect of invention. 
Really the impersonation revealed few of the finer 
qualities of the actor, but it was a wonderful 
demonstration of theatrical intelligence and fin- 
ished executive skill. And these again were the 
conspicuous features of his remarkable embodi- 
ment of Louis XI. This, too, was eminently the- 

241 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

atrical) in some places it approached the gro- 
tesque, but it was so nicely proportioned^ so 
consistent in its extravagances, and so elaborately 
wrought — ^was such an admirable blend of senile 
ferocity, suspicion, lust, cruelty, superstition, 
treachery, and abject cowardice — ^that it passed 
for human. It was a marvel of stage technique, 
especially in the encounter with Nemours and in 
the death scene. But it was not a great perform- 
ance, because it was untrue, dealt only with the 
baser emotions, and called for no great effort of 
histrionic imagination. Both these characters lay 
easily within the range of the actor's executive 
powers. 

In ** Charles I.'* — a most unhistorical romance 
— Irving struck a higher note and presented an- 
other striking proof of his sense of characteriza- 
tion. He looked the unhappy king as if he had 
just stepped out of the frame of a Vandyke por- 
trait, and his carriage was that of easy, hab- 
itual, and unconscious authority. His subdued, 
thoughtful, dignified manner was in striking con- 
trast with the nervous excitability of Mathias and 
Louis, and proved the completeness of his artis- 
tic self-control. The part was no hard test of 
his ability, but he made some uncommonly fine 
strokes in his majestic treatment of Cromwell — 
who is introduced simply as a ** server ^^ to the 

242 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

king — and in the pathetic rebuke of the traitor 
Moray, which he uttered with a simplicity totally 
free from his usual elocutionary peculiarities. 
But it was in **The Merchant of Venice '* that he 
won his greatest triumph as an actor-manager. 
No such performance of that comedy has been 
given in this city, before or since.* His later rep- 
resentations of it were less perfect because he 
no longer had the same cast. The production in 
1883 was probably — taking it all in all — the finest 
Shakespearean revival he ever made. It was in 
every way, pictorially and dramatically, worthy 
of the text, and it is of mighty few Shakespear- 
ean revivals that so much can be truthfully 
declared. As a spectacle it charmed by the artis- 
tic beauty of its grouping and coloring, the pic- 
turesqueness and genuine realism of its street 
scenes, the fine tone and finish of its interiors, 
and the poetic atmosphere surrounding the gar- 
den at Belmont. The whole panorama was the 
product of scholarly, liberal, imaginative, and 
tasteful direction. And the acting, from first to 
last, was of the same high quality as the setting. 
The Shylock of Irving was not far behind 
Booth's. Inferior to it in oratory and passion, 
it was equal to it in intellectual force and supe- 
rior to it in romantic fancy. It held the interest 

• This holds good up to the present time, June, 1916. 

243 



\ 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

of the spectators in the firmest grip. The chief 
defect in it was a certain inconsistency. In the 
opening acts it was all venom, hatred, and supple 
craft, but in the trial scene — after Portia's ver- 
dict — it assumed an air of noble patriarchal suf- 
ferance under savage and unjust persecution. 
The linal exit — as tlie broken old Jew, with hag- 
gard face, blank, staring ej^es, and tottering steps, 
groped his way from the court room supporting 
himself with outstretched anus against the wall 
— was a wonderful ])icture of stunned misery. 

And with what a gi-oup of sterling players was 
this Shylock surrounded ! First and foremost, 
of <*()urs(», was the Portia of Ellon Terry, then in 
th(» I'ullost hlooiii of fi'iniiiine witchery. This was 
the I'ain^st and most (Miclianting impersonation, 
perhaps, of li(»r Sliakospcaroan women. She 
was (lazzlin.ii: and danicorous as the wilful and 
brilliant TU'atrjco, a lovely and pitiful Ophelia, 
a tondi-r and poetic Viola; but with the part of 
Portia she seemed to itlentify herself completely, 
illiistratinijc its every mood with an irresistible 
^raee and most si)onlaneous ease. Charles Beade 
defined the actress very liapi)ily when he said 
that **trracc pervades th(» hussy.'' Accomplished 
actress as she was, she owed much of her success 
to the natural beauty of her movements. Of 
other actors in this memoral)le cast, Wenman was 



244 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

an admirable Antonio, poor William Terriss a 
most gallant Bassanio, old Howe a perfect Dnke, 
the veteran Tom Meade an ideal Prince of Mo* 
rocco, S. Johnson an excellent Launcelot Gobbo, 
and Miss Payne a most attractive Nerissa. There 
was no weak spot anywhere. 

In the effective melodrama, **The Lyons Mail,'* 
Irving 's best acting was done in the part of the 
falsely accused Lesurques. His portrayal of 
amazed, indignant, and confounded innocence 
charged with a crime which it can not refute was 
extraordinarily clever and subtle, but he gained 
more applause for his murderous and drunken 
ruffian Dubosc, a part which could easily have 
been played much more effectively by a far less 
capable actor, with better physical advantages. 
It was a clever bit of theatrical trickery, but 
there was nothing wonderful or very impressive 
about it, although it pleased the galleries greatly. 
Nor did he add greatly to his laurels by his 
Doricourt in **The Belle's Stratagem, '' in which 
his worst mannerisms were painfully apparent. 
But, as might be expected, he played the mad 
scene very cleverly. The last production of this 
first engagement was *^ Hamlet," which in re- 
spect of pictorial beauty, general excellence of 
stage management, and thorough competency of 
the supporting cast, was the equal of *^The Mer- 

245 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

chant of Venice/^ But unfortunately there was 
one weak spot in it, and that was the Prince. In 
that part — more aggressively, perhaps, than in 
any other of the great tragic characters that he 
played here in after years — were the disabilities 
of Irving to cope with great emotional poetic 
conceptions made manifest. I do not propose to 
dwell upon them now. 

Of course, there was much that was admirable 
in his impersonation, but these excellences were 
exhibited almost exclusively in the less emo- 
tional passages. In the crises it was eccentric, 
extravagant, tricky, and melodramatic. Its suc- 
cesses only helped to make its failures more ex- 
asperating. Its reception in this country was 
cool. In London it found much more general 
acceptance. There he had not to contend with 
Edwin Booth. It is pleasant to be able to close 
this paper with a reference to one of his artis- 
tic triumphs. His ** Twelfth Night," which he 
presented in November, 1884, was an almost ideal 
representation. In Malvolio he found a part 
admirably adapted to his intelligence, his tem- 
perament, liis methods, and to his peculiar vein 
of grave or sardonic humor. His steward was 
no buffoon. lie conceived and played him in 
the mood of a Don Quixote, making him an 
object of pity rather than laughter, although he 

246 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

was infinitely amusing. His long, lank, angular 
figure, his grave, ascetic face, his very manner of 
speech, enabled him to suggest the Quixotic 
type. (He did, it will be remembered, embody 
the Ejiight of La Mancha in later years.) He 
appeared as a melancholy Hidalgo, distraught 
by an egotism which rendered him unconscious 
of his potential servitude while greatly intensify- 
ing his susceptibilty to the slights of his domes- 
tic associates. 

At bottom he was a proud and sensitive, if also 
very silly and ridiculous, gentleman. The vic- 
tim of a cruel practical joke, a butt for coarse 
merriment, the perfect sincerity of his feelings 
and his self-deception made his fate tragic. Un- 
questionably Irving embodied the true Shake- 
spearean fancy, and he illustrated it with innu- 
merable touches of rarely subtle humor and 
genuine pathos. It was a notable creation, but 
imperfectly comprehended by the general pub- 
lic, which found more delight in the liquorish 
Sir Toby of Wenman, one of the most unctuous 
bits of robust low comedy ever seen upon the 
stage, the exquisite Viola of Ellen Terry, the 
sparkling Maria of Miss Payne, and the excellent 
Sir Andrew of Norman Forbes. The whole rep- 
resentation was a managerial achievement of 
the highest merit, and the memory of it is still 
fragrant. 

247 



TOMMASO SALVINI AND LESTER WAIXACff 

It was in October, 1885, that the late Tom- 
maso Salvini, then in his artistic and physical 
prime, onfe more essayed the character of King 
Lear before an American audience, thus chal- 
lenging comparison with Edwin Booth and Edwin 
Forrest. He played it under the most adverse 
conditions, amid the vast spaces of the Metro- 
politan Opera House, in an unsatisfactory Italian 
version of the tragedy, with an English-speaking 
company of inferior quality, whose professed 
support was a perpetual handicap. Yet his 
triumph over all these difficulties was absolute. 
From beginning to end he held in thrall an aucfi- 
ence which completely filled the great house 
and gave vent to its emotions in frequent out- 
bursts of rapturous applause, such as only acting 
of the snpremest kind can evoke in a theater. 
The greatest demonstration of all, perhaps, oc- 
curred at the end of the death scene, at the end 
of the performance. Late as was the hour, the 
spectators lingered to call the actor before the 
curtain again and again, as if unwilling to leave 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

the scene of their enchantment. No more re- 
markable spontaneous tribute was ever given 
to any achievement of histrionic genius. But 
the effort itself was damned with faint and 
grudging praise by most of the contemporaneous 
critics. They acknowledged the power of it, but 
pronounced it un-Shakespearean, untraditional, 
unsympathetic, romantic, and melodramatic 
rather than tragic. Far be it from me to impugn 
the sincerity of their verdict. Their judgment, 
not their honesty, failed them. What they lacked 
was catholicity of taste and comprehension. They 
were more or less justified by the narrow tradi- 
tional standards by which they permitted them- 
selves to be bound. It is perfectly true that the 
Lear of Salvini could never entirely satisfy those 
who hold that Shakespeare can not be understood 
or interpreted except by an actor of Anglo-Saxon 
lineage. It was not primarily or exclusively 
British. That is not a fatal objection in the eyes 
of those who realize that human emotions are 
alike everywhere, but may vary infinitely in 
their modes of expression. 

What was Shakespeare's Lear? He was a 
semi-barbaric King, imperious, rugged, pictur- 
esque, headstrong, and a mighty warrior, who 
wielded a good, biting falchion. Burdened, but 
not broken, by age, he was driven mad by the 

249 



SIXTY TEABS OF THE THBATXai 

heaped upon him l^ the omel and 
faithless daughters^ trnstixig in whom he liad abdi- 
oated* At the last he was a foolish, fond old 
man, the most pathetic and one of the most tragie 
and poetic figures in all drama. A|l of this Sat 
Tini was. His impersonation differed at almost 
every point from those of Phelps, of Forrest, or 
of Edwin Booth, but was inferior to none of fhem 
in subtlety and consistemgr of conoq[>tkin, imag* 
inative detail, pathos, or finished execution, 
while it exceeded them all in its facile dominance 
of tragic passion. In port he was mlajestic, in 
fury terribly in his desolation mmtteraUy |nti- 
foL It wonld be diflScolt to imagine ai^^thiog 
more realistic than the shifting moods of his 
madness. In a word he vitalimd an ideal whidi 
might have been, even if it was not, tiiat of 
Lear's creator — one that Shakespeare certainly 
would never have disowned. Italian it was, be- 
yond all question, but it was also human and 
superb. As for the charge that it was romantic 
melodrama, that need not be denied. It origi- 
nated in a confusion of terms. Melodrama is 
but tragedy of a baser sort, and all poetic trag- 
edy is romantic melodrama raised to its highest 
degree. The greater includes the less. The 
romantic and picturesque qualities of Salvini's 
Lear contributed greatly to its fascination. 

250 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

For the carping criticism that was directed 
against the Coriolanus of Salvini there was mnch 
less excuse on the score of orthodoxy. He played 
this character, for the first time in his life, in 
November, 1885, and his experiment naturally 
excited lively interest among the most intelligent 
class of playgoers. He confronted an audience as 
large and as cultivated as any that has ever been 
assembled within the walls of a New York thea- 
ter, and he conquered it completely. He might 
have said, in the words of the assumed charac- 
ter, ** Alone I did it,'* for never did man act 
amid more discouraging conditions. The scenery 
was a collection of odds and ends, the support 
was infamous, and he spoke in a language a 
majority of his hearers could not understand. 
On the other hand, it is obvious that the part of 
Coriolanus was one with which he had much 
closer natural aflSnity than that of Lear. He 
had fewer racial and textual difl5culties to deal 
with, and was, of course, fully conversant with 
the legendary history upon which the play was 
founded. If he could not master the letter, 
he could at any rate grasp the spirit of the 
Shakespearean creation, even through the para- 
phrases of an uninspired translation. There is 
doubtless some warrant for the oft-repeated 
assertion that Shakespeare conceived all his for- 

251 




SIXTV YEARS OF ' PHIC THBATEB 
eignen in terms of the Angio-SauHi, but to intt- 
mato tliat, 1^ reuon of Ua nationality, Salviai, 
a histronio genius of the first order, was vnaUe 
to oomprehend the natnre of an andent Bonuu 
was as illt^oal and presumptnooa as it ms 
parochial. 

The simple iraXh is that his perfonnanoe ms 
nothing short of extraordinary in its impres ai TS- 
nesB, piotnresqneness, and vitality. It ia tider- 
ably safe to say that, so far as mere grandenr of 
physioal proportions are oonoemed, the <^ 
Soman patrician never before had so magnifi- 
cent a representative. In face and fignre he wss 
an ideal soldier of the classic heroic mold. Ma- 
cready, and other leaders of the English-speaking 
stage, conceived Coriolanns as an aristocrat of 
the Saxon type with the sluggish insnlar pulse. In 
Salvini's person, he glowed with the ardent tem- 
perament of the Latin races. To him the frigid 
immobility, which in the English theater is com- 
monly regarded as the one and indispensable 
symbol of contemptuous pride and defiance, 
would have been impossible. Never hysterical 
or restless, he signified each passing emotion by 
the freest play of gesture and facial expression, 
but every movement and attitude emphasized the 
inherent self-reliant, intolerant, and imperious 
nature of the man. In his volcanic e^losions 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

of passion and his moments of simple pathos, 
he was ever mindful of his dignity. Before every- 
thing else, he was the invincible warrior. It was 
evident that his contempt for the mob sprang 
chiefly not from pride of rank, but scorn of their 
cowardice and sense of his own moral and physi- 
cal superiority. His unwillingness to beg favors 
of them was because of his honest disgust at the 
idea of boasting of a courage which in his eyes 
was no virtue at all, but the natural inheritance 
of every proper man. He rushed into the rabble 
and dispersed it, like a veritable eagle fluttering 
the dove-coteSy and shook with laughter at the 
angry demonstrations which alarmed his friends. 
The performance was so full of bold strokes 
and delicate beauties that only a detached review 
could do it full justice. A few of the most strik- 
ing features may be mentioned. One wonderful 
elTect was created in the scene when his wife, 
mother and friends implored him to yield to the 
demands of the plebs. The subtlety and veracity 
of his suggestion of the suppressed torture of a 
haughty spirit schooling itself to accept proflFered 
humiliation constituted an amazing exhibition of 
emotional imagination and executive artistry, 
while the outburst of fury which preceded his 
final submission was one of the most startling 



263 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

that even he had ever enacted. The ensniiig 
scene in the fonun was aaperb from start to flft- ! 
ish, and the culmination of it, where, his pent-up 
wrath bursting all the bonds of patience, he thun- 
dered ont his defiance, towering among the crowd 
like a giant among the pigmies, created an entfao- 
siasm among the spectators akin to that which 
used to follow his appalling assault upon lago, 
or his marvelous death scene in "La Morte 
Civile." 

In wonderful contrast with this was the virile 
but moving pathos of his farewell to his ass^n- 
Ued family after the decree of banishment pro- 
nounced against liim, and the fine dignity, with 
its undertone of personal anguish, with which he 
accepted the greetings of the Volscian general, 
Aa£dlua. Another extruordinHry, but altogether 
different manifestation of internal emotion, with 
an effect out of all proportion to the apparent 
simplicity of the means employed, was afforded 
during his reception of the Boman suppliants in 
the Volscian camp, culminating in another tre> 
mendous explosion of wrath against Anfidios. 
The whole impersonation was a masterpiece, 
worthy of a conspicuous place in any list of Sal- 
vim's creations, which collectively constitute the 
most wonderful histrionic achievement of mod- 
em times. 

254 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

After **Coriolaiins," which was less successful 
with the general public than it might have been 
if it had been treated with greater f aimess, cor- 
diality, and discernment in the daily press, Sal- 
vini appeared many times as Othello, Samson, 
Niger, and Conrad, but only undertook one new 
character, the Ghost in ** Hamlet.'^ That was 
during his brief engagement in 1886 with Edwin 
Booth. The joint appearance of two such famous 
players was, of course, a remarkable theatrical 
event. It occurred in the Academy of Music, 
and attracted, perhaps, the largest and most dis- 
tinguished audiences that ever assembled within 
the walls of that famous old house. They acted 
together first in ** Othello,'* and expectation was 
on tiptoe to see the greatest of lagos and the 
greatest of Moors in artistic rivalry. On the 
opening night, unhappily, Mr. Booth was not at 
his best. In the opening scenes he acted with his 
usual skill, verve, and diabolic intensity, and the 
responsive cooperation of the protagonists was 
a delightful study; but in the critical scene of 
Othello's assault upon him, overcome by nerv- 
ous strain or temporary indisposition, his 
strength failed him, and he nearly fell headlong 
into the orchestra. Only Salvini's great strength 
and presence of mind prevented a fiasco. Sup- 
porting his associate, he kept on acting as if noth- 

255 




SIXTY YEABS OF THE THEATER 
ing was wrong, and Mmtrived to flniahjlw.'act 
without irreparable disaster. 

In "Hamlet" Mr. Booth was himaelf again, 
and played Hie Prinoe as no one but himself has 
played it within living memory. Bnt tbe repie- 
Bontation, aa a whole, ihongh a good one in mai^ 
respects, brought disi^pointment to many Shake- 
spearean Btudents. In the first instance, Salvini 
had volunteered to play the King, a part wfaidi, 
in recent times at least, has never found a really 
competent actor. The reason is not far to sedL 
Actually the character is one requiring first-dass 
ability for its proper interpretation. It is far 
more exacting in its complications of motives and 
emotions — though less diflScnlt of comprehension 
— than the part of the Prince himself, in which, 
as has been said, no actor of moderate capacity 
ever failed completely. Hamlet has an inalien- 
able fascination of his own, which provides a sort 
of insurance for the actor, but the King is not 
only a difficult but a repellent character, which 
offers the poor player little assistance. Few 
persons realize the enormous histrionic possibili- 
ties inherent in him. When Salvini was asked 
what character he would play in "Hamlet," he 
replied, "I will play either ze King or ze Ghost" 
Accordingly, he was oast for the King, and, be- 
yond all question, his performance of it would 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

have amounted to a revelation of the dramatic 
energy latent in the part and its true importance, 
generally unsuspected, in the whole scheme of 
the tragedy. But soon he changed his mind, 
probably on account of an unwillingness to en- 
danger his reputation by undertaking a character 
of this description at such short notice, and an- 
nounced that he would play the Ghost, with 
whose lines and business he was, of course, en- 
tirely familiar. He attempted no innovations, 
playing the part upon strictly conventional lines, 
but no one who witnessed his performance will 
forget the organ-like roll of his declamation or 
the majesty of his port. No more solemn or 
imposing specter ever revisited the glimpses of 
the theatrical moon. Well might Hamlet say, 
**We shall not look upon his like again. ^' 

In any record, however brief and arbitrary, of 
the closing years of the nineteenth century in 
the New York theaters, the name of Lester Wal- 
lack must have a place. To the last he preserved 
his prestige as one of the most brilliant exponents 
of romantic comedy, but the end of his career 
was less fortunate than the beginning. Health 
and fortune both failed him, and his star paled. 
He survived many of the associates who had 
shared the glories of his prime ; others abandoned 
his standard, and he was unable to replace them by 

257 




SIXTY Y£ABS OF THE THEATER 

eqairalent rabstitatea. But his oompu^, tiwa^ 
it suffered from dry-rot, alwayB oontained mndi 
ezoellent material, and aoqnitted itsctf oreditabfy 
in standard plays long after lie was nnaUe to 
lead it in person. Many of hia disastromi failures 
were dne to a mistahen bhoioe of plays — ^not to 
any inadeqnaoy on the part of the performers. A 
case in point was the "^pnlse," of B. 0. Ste- 
phenson — ^prodnoed in 1885 — a piece fnll of the- 
atrical sitnations, but wholly ineredible in action 
and nnsympathetic in its general chaiaoter. It 
had a certain success in London, owing to a bril- 
liant performance of the principal female diar- 
acter, which was not duplicated here. Mr. Wal- 
lack — ^who was not immane to the besetting weak- 
ness of actor-managers — produced it beoanse he 
discerned in the figare of Colonel Criohton a part 
peculiarly well suited to himself. This was a 
gentleman bashful before the fair sex — Mr. Wal- 
lack's Charles Marlow was one of his happiest 
embodiments — somewhat slow in perception and 
speech, but brave and prompt in deed, tender, 
true, and chivalrous. He was, in short, the god 
in the machine, dominating the entire action, and 
disposing of every crisis by virtue of his infalli- 
bility as guide, censor, and arbiter. In snch a 
character Wallack was in his element, and he 
enacted it with unflagging spirit, brilliancy, and 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ease, giving temporary vitality and distinction to 
one of the most conventional and familiar of 
stage puppets. 

His efforts, however, availed nothing to save 
the play, which was soon withdrawn, to be suc- 
ceeded by * * Diplomacy, ' ' in which he resumed his 
old character of Henry Beauclerc. By this time 
he was somewhat mature and heavy for the part 
of the astute young diplomat, but his handsome 
presence, his authoritative style, and his com- 
plete mastery of theatrical resource stood him in 
good stead, and he carried off the chief hon- 
ors of the evening, although closely pressed by the 
Zicka of Rose Coghlan, always a fine piece of 
work. This, perhaps, was the last performance 
which was really worthy of his best days. He 
reappeared in ^*The Captain of the Watch, '^ a 
little piece of light comedy in which he never had 
a rival, and as Colonel White in ^^Home," and 
soon afterward revived his own farcical comedy 
of ** Central Park,^' a triviality which had aged 
a century in less than a generation. In his 
youth he had triumphed in it by the sheer force 
of animal spirits and personal fascination. Those 
were the days when his walks abroad were at- 
tended by bevies of secretly adoring women. 
Now he was no longer the dazzling Adonis> and 
the art of his autumn could not compensate for 

259 




SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

the perished charms of his spring. Nor was 
there any dramatic substance to the play itself, 
which failed dismally and inevitably. 

The final curtain for him was not far oflf. For 
two or three years a disabled leg kept him from 
the stage, although he still retained a considerable 
amount of bodily vigor. One more night of per- 
sonal triumph awaited him. That occurred in 
^fay, 1888, when a public benefit was tendered 
to him in the Metropolitan Opera House. • The 
scene was one long to be remembered, and must 
be reckoned among the most striking testimonials 
of i)opuhir estoom ever offered to an actor. 
EvtM'v class in the community was represented in 
the enonnous audience, which filled every cranny 
in the vast interior. The play was **Hamlet,^* 
and the theatrical profession, eager to do honor 
to one of its most eminent members, contributed 
one of the most notable casts ever selected for 
the interpretation of the tragedy. A '^star cast^' 
does not necessarily mean much. Too often it is 
nothing l)nt an aggregation of popular players, 
siifti(.*icntly capable in their own particular lines 
of business, but imaccustomed to each other, and 
not specially well fitted to the parts to which 
thev luav have been assigned, chieflv with refer- 
ence to their own professional standing. But in 
this case the parts were distributed with the view 

2()0 




LESTER WALLACK 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER ^ 
years. His Hamlet was always exquisite in read- 
ing, subtle in byplay, and flawlessly smooth in 
execution, but the challenge of so great an actress 
as Modjeska put new spurs to his intent, and he 
played with unwonted concentration, energy, and 
spirit. He probably never again acted the part 
80 finely. In the renunciation scene he excelled 
himself, being put, indeed, to his utmost mettle 
by the additional tensity which the responsive, 
picturesque, and eloquent acting of Modjeska 
imparted to the situation. This particular epi- 
sode had never been interpreted so effectively 
since the days of Fechter and Kate Terry, and 
it provoked a storm of enthusiasm in which the 
players divided the honors. 

In her mad scene Modjeska had her own per- 
sonal triumph. She had prepared the way for it 
by her subtle but definite manifestations of genn- 
ine love for Hamlet, which enabled her to deepen 
the pathos of her disjointed utterances with a 
note of wrecked passion. The variety of her 
tone, gesture, and expression was extraordinary, 
and it would scarcely he extravagant to speak of 
her performance as an original inspiration. It 
was fashioned, of course, upon traditional mod- 
els, but in freshness, vitality, and felicity of de- 
tail was superior to all of them. Lawrence Bar- 
rett enacted the Ghost with impressive dignity 



1^ 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

and sonorous declamation. Frank Mayo was over- 
weighted in the part of the King, but acquitted 
himself respectably, while Gertrude Kellogg did 
excellently as the Queen. Eben Plympton filled 
the part of Laertes with notable fire and passion, 
and old John Gilbert was an admirable Polonius, 
free from all buffoonery, slow in wit, and porten- 
tous in speech, but venerable withal, courtly, and, 
within certain limitations, shrewdly wise. Joseph 
Wheelock gave notable effect to the bombast of 
the First Actor, and Rose Coghlan made a figure 
of the Player Queen. 

And then there was the delightful First Grave 
Digger of Joseph Jefferson. The actor made no 
effort to disguise his personality, but fitted the 
character perfectly, filling the lines with his own 
natural humor, and illustrating it with the hap- 
piest of byplay. As his companion Digger, W. 
J. Florence had very little opportunity, but out 
of it made a perfect little character sketch. The 
world will be considerably older before another 
such worthy representation of ''Hamlet^' is wit- 
nessed. It was a memorable evening, of which 
the culmination came when Lester Wallack, white- 
haired, stalwart, and handsome, was revealed 
standing by a bank of flowers. With all his usual 
sense of stage effect he expressed his grateful 
appreciation of the honor conferred upon him, 

263 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

and his determination to court public favor once 
more before the footlights, as soon as his "rebel- 
lious limb*' had been reduced to subjection. Not 
many months later he was laid in his grave. 



264 



XIX 

MODJESKA AND RISTORI 

MoDjESEA was an ornament to the New York 
stage, at intervals, for many years, and she be- 
came a popular favorite from Maine to Califor- 
nia. Her performances as Adrienne, Camille, 
Juliet, Viola, and Bosalind have been described 
in the first part of these memoirs, and it is un- 
necessary to revert to them. But she played 
many other parts, not all of equal importance, 
which demonstrated the great range of her abili- 
ties. In 1886 she appeared in *'Les Chouans,'* 
a romantic melodrama, adapted by Paul M. Pot- 
ter from a piece which Pierre Berton had made 
out of material in Balzac ^s story. Dramatically 
and artistically it was rubbish, but it was 
crammed with theatrical sensations. Modj'eska 
had the part of a woman who fell desperately in 
love with the man whom she had agreed to be- 
tray, was wrongfully suspected and abominably 
maltreated by him, and finally, after reconcilia- 
tion and innumerable trials, was shot down in an 
attempt to rescue him. Only her acting redeemed 

265 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER ~ 

the piece from absolute futility. She proved her- 
self as capable of melodramatic emotional expres- 
sion as Bernhardt herself. In scenes of love, 
grief, terror, indignation, and rage she exhibited 
every phase of passionate tenderness, abject mis- 
ery, hauteur, and stormy paaaion, revealing a 
physical vigor surprising in a woman of her 
slender form. She invested the violent episodes 
with an atmosphere of romance which gave them 
picturesqueness and plausibility. Next she pro- 
duced an English version of a drama by the Ger- 
man dramatist, Philippi. As Daniela, the hero- 
ine, she played the part of a virtuous wife who 
incurred the suspicions of the husband for whose 
sake fihe was sacrificing herself. The theme, 
which has been treated since in a modified form 
by Pinero, is of no importance, but it afforded 
the actress an opportunity of showing the ease 
with which ahe conld tarn from the extravagance 
of melodrama to the naturalism of serious domes- 
tic comedy. She was equally effective as the lov- 
ing wife and the outraged woman, being espe- 
cially impressive in her moments of righteous 
anger and contemptuous scorn. 

In 1888, reverting to the poetic drama, she 
made her first appearance in this city in the char- 
acter of Imogen in Shakespeare's "Cymbeline." 
This impersonation can not be accounted among 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

her greatest successes. It was a brilliant sketch 
rather than a completed study. But it bore many 
marks of her peculiar genius. As the young wife 
laboring under the sorrow of her impending sep- 
aration from her husband, the suggestion of silent 
suffering in her pose and a certain indefinable 
air of purity won her audience at once. Her 
parting from Posthumus was instinct with fer- 
vent affection, and her defense of him against the 
reproaches of Cymbeline reflected true nobility 
of soul. Her most artistic achievement, perhaps, 
was in her first scene with lachimo. Her joyous 
excitement over the reception of her husband's 
letter, the innocent bewilderment with which she 
listened to the tentative insinuations of her 
tempter, her progressive indignation as the full 
significance of them dawned upon her, and the 
splendid burst of mingled scorn and passion with 
which she resented the supreme outrage to her 
chastity demonstrated the keenness and sureness 
of her artistic perception and the wealth of artis- 
tic resources at her command. In no other part 
of the play were her abilities severely taxed. 
There was simple pathos of the purest kind in 
the scene with Pisanio in the wood, near Milford 
Haven, especially during her perusal of the mis- 
sive from Posthumus ordering her death, and 
many touches of delightful comedy, in her best 

267 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

manner— with relapses into pathetio tenderness— 
before the cave of Belarins, bat the reviYal was 
only partly snooessfoL The oondnding seenes 
were mutilated in snoh fashion as to be barely 
intelligible, and interest in them flagged in spits 
of her ntmost endeavors. The whole prodnetion, 
indeed, with the exception of the Leonatns of 
Eben Plympton, which was excellent, and the 
Pisanio of Robert Taber, which was respectaUe, 
was one of the shabbiest and most contemptilde 
imaginable. In this Modjeska was only following 
the evil example of Edwin Booth, but failed, seemr 
ingly, to reflect that the latter confined himself, for 
the most part, to plays of tried popularity. * * Cym- 
beline*' has never been a popular play, and needs 
first-class acting to make it effective. It met with 
considerable success at Sadler's Wells, when 
Phelps often played Leonatus, but always with 
a company of good players behind him. Mod- 
jeska was too intelligent to be subject to the 
delusion that a great actor shines all the more in 
contrast with the dulness of his associates. The 
reverse of this is the fact. It is only when capa- 
bly supported that the leading actor can create 
his best effects. Macready was forever lament- 
ing the ruin of his finest conceptions by the in- 
eptitude of his subordinates. 
After the failure of '*Cymbeline,*' Madame 

268 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Modjeska essayed the hazardous experiment of a 
production of ** Measure for Measure/* a play 
which had been absent from the stage for many 
years. She was tempted to it, doubtless, by a 
desire to act Isabella, but the character was one 
with which she proved to be in imperfect sympa- 
thy. Curiously enough, considering the emo- 
tional eloquence of which she had often shown 
herself capable, she did not seem to grasp the 
true nature of the spiritual torture to which 
Isabella was subjected. Her performance, it is 
almost unnecessary to say, was not deficient in 
gracious dignity, personal charm, or tender feel- 
ing; but it was lacking in energy and poignancy. 
She did herself full justice only in her denuncia- 
tion of Angelo upon his declaration of lawless 
passion. Here she was superb in gesture, pose, 
and spirit, but at other times, in comparison 
with her usual brilliancy, she was strangely tame 
and ineffective. It was scarcely worth while to 
risk so much for the sake of one moment of 
triumph. Actually the representation was chiefly 
notable on account of a remarkable bit of acting 
in the prison scene by Robert Taber as Claudio. In 
pleadingwith his sister for his life he counterfeited 
a paroxysm of groveling fear with such startling 
sincerity and realism that he eclipsed Modjeska 
herself and furnished the one dramatic sensation 

269 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER ^ 
of the evening. The achievement, not bo diffi- 
cult a one as it may have seemed to the unini- 
tiated, created a reputation for him which, unfor- 
tunately, he did not live long enough to justify. 
By the revival itself nothing was accomplished 
for the benefit of the public, the fame of the 
actress, or the credit of Shakespeare. The expe- 
diency of it might be challenged on many grounds. 
Obviously, in its original shape, the play is unfit 
for representation before a modem audience, but 
that was no reason why it should have been man- 
gled with such savage inexpertness. The expur- 
gation was done without reference to cohesion, 
and much objectionable and unnecessary matter 
was retained. Consequently, the general result 
was a melancholy and indescribable hodge-podge 
in which most of the incapable actors floundered 
hopelessly. Doubtless Modjeska obeyed an ar- 
tistic impulse in undertaking an unhackneyed 
Shakespearean part, of much literary and dra- 
matic value, but she would have been wiser if she 
had entrusted the task of actual production to a 
manager of greater experience and discernment. 
She soon realized her mistake — although she re- 
peated it with no better forfcone seven years later 
— and delighted all her admirers by a return to 
Shakespearean comedy, presenting herself for 
the first time as Beatrice in "Much Ado About 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Nothing. * ' This proved a companion piece to her 
Rosalind, although not quite equal to that exquis- 
ite embodiment. In physical fascination, brilliant 
intelligence, and artistic resource she was won- 
derfully well equipped for that glittering and 
sterling specimen of womanhood, and her success 
in it was immediate and lasting. The natural 
and buoyant grace of her carriage, her mobile 
and expressive features, her mastery of apt and 
animated gesture, and her marked capacity for 
bantering humor were eminent qualifications for 
the character. In the rapier play of wit she ac- 
quitted herself with admirable dexterity, deliver- 
ing her point with penetrating emphasis. Arch, 
provocative, alluring, and prickly, she was a be- 
witching creature. 

But one phase of the character — and that typi- 
cal — she missed or slurred. In her intense appre- 
ciation and enjoyment of the witty shafts, of 
which she had a quiverful, she failed to bring into 
sufficient relief the latent strength — the essential 
pride — of Beatrice's character. There was noth- 
ing in her Beatrice that would dishearten or hold 
at bay the most bashful or cautious lover who 
had once fallen under the spell of her enchant- 
ment. Her satire often lacked the spice of ear- 
nestness to give it sting. It was conceived too 
persistently in the mood of girlish merriment. 

271 




SIXTy YEARS OF THE TUEAIXR 
She did not oateh the fnll Bignifioaiioe of "Vj 
Lady DiBdain." There were monwnts vben aba 
forgot her dignity. 'When, for initano^ she wu 
sent "agaiouBt my will" to bid Benedit^ oome to 
dinner, she yawned elaborately and atretohed her^ 
self, which was not only a flagrant breaoh of 
good manners in a fine lady of the oonrt^ bnt aa 
obvious perversion of the anOior'a intent. Blem- 
ishes of this kind, however, were exueedingptr 
rare in an impersonation remarinUe for its 
grace, vivaoity, and intelleotnal dutinotion. This 
particolar one is noted becanae of its inoonats- 
tency with her interpretation of the church aoene 
in which the tme Beatrice — ^with all the finer 
womanhood hidden behind her mask — ^was mnch 
more vividly presented, although even here, at the 
crisis, she did not give to the "Eill Clandio" all 
the passionate vehemence of which she had often 
proved herself capable. But there was moving 
sincerity in her championBhip of Hero — ^"Ohl 
on my soni, my cousin is belied I" — and in the 
closing passages with Benedick, with their sub- 
tle intermingling of varied emotion — pity, love, 
and scorn — her acting was brilliant. Other ao- 
tresses have equalled her in some parts of the 
play, and excelled her in others, but of all the 
Beatrices I have seen she was one of the very 
best. And on this occasion she enjoyed the ad- 
272 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

vantages of a fairly competent supporting cast. 
Eben Plympton was a consistent and effective, if 
somewhat unimaginative, Benedick, laying stress 
upon his soldierly qualities and endowing him 
with sturdy virility; Robert Taber was an excel- 
lent Antonio, and William F. Owen a genuinely 
amusing Dogberry. 

In these later days our ** stars** are content 
to repeat indefinitely the characters in which 
they have been conspicuously successful. But 
Modjeska, inspired by the true artistic tempera- 
ment, was always seeking to enlarge her reper- 
tory and win triumphs in new directions. She 
was ill advised when in 1892 she essayed the 
part of Queen Katharine, and especially in de- 
pending for her support upon a cast which fell 
little short of the grotesque in its absolute unfit- 
ness. Although she spoke English with fluency, she 
never fully overcame her foreign intonation and 
accent, and it is possible that, perfect as was her 
comprehension of her own lines, she was often 
unconscious of the terrible hash that some of her 
associates were making of theirs. On any other 
ground it is difficult to understand how she could 
have dreamed of success in presenting ''Henry 
Vni** with such a Wolsey as John A. Lane — one 
of the most wooden of old-timers — or such a 
Buckingham as Beaumont Smith, not to allude 

273 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

to subordinates yet more direful. Here she was 
repeating the errors committed in **Cymbeline** 
and ''Measure for Measure/* It is unlikely that 
even with the most favorable surroundings she 
could have succeeded greatly in a part for which 
she was not well suited and with which she was 
not in full sympathy. In royalty of mien, grace 
of manner, and womanly pathos she fulfilled all 
requirements, but the* robuster elements in the 
Queen's nature — the revolting spirit which inten- 
sified the tragedy of her situation — eluded her. 
The portrait she presented was painted with skill 
and some insight, but needed bolder coloring and 
firmer outlines to make it vital. In the *'Lord 
Cardinal, to you I speak,'* and the '*I will when 
you are humble," she created no such thrilling 
dramatic effect as Charlotte Cushman, Mrs. 
Charles Kean, Miss Atkinson, and other actresses 
of less repute made at these points. It was suf- 
fering womanhood rather than tortured majesty 
that she exemplified. She was at her best in the 
death scene, which she made beautifully tender 
and solemn, but the impersonation can not be set 
down among her greatest histrionic accomplish- 
ments. 

Genius as she was, she was not exempt from 
the weaknesses and hallucinations prevalent 
among most members of her profession. One 

274 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

of these is the delusion that, because in many 
good and popular plays there are violent and im- 
probable incidents, an aggregation of startling 
episodes, without reference to common sense, is 
the essence of strong drama. She must have 
been subject to it when she ventured to produce, 
in 1895, * * Mistress Betty, * * one of the worst speci- 
mens of the hack-work of the late Clyde Fitch. 
The obvious motive of it was to afford her an 
opportunity of displaying the infinite variety of 
her histrionic resources, and this, in a way, it did. 
But the scheme of it was so ridiculous in its in- 
coherence and disregard of human nature that all 
the conscientious labors of Modjeska to rational- 
ize it were painfully futile. The heroine was a 
great actress, who married a duke, only to dis- 
cover that he was a worthless profligate, in love 
with somebody else. So she leaves him, but pres- 
ently returns to find him a reformed and worthy 
character. Therefore she proposes to forget the 
past and resume conjugal relations. But he ex- 
plains that he is now devoted to his cousin, where- 
upon, because her love for him is greater than 
ever, she promises to disappear, that he may be 
free to marry the girl of his choice. This sac- 
rifice he is too noble to accept, so she falsely 
tells him that she has become the mistress of his 
bosom friend. Lord Phillips, and when that inno- 

275 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

cent gentleman unexpectedly appears throws her- 
self into his arms with a repetition of her lying 
confession. Lord Phillips vigorously denies the 
soft impeachment, but finally — ^whether on ac- 
count of embarrassment or politeness does not 
much matter — admits the truth of it, and carries 
her off. In the final act Betty dies mad, solacing 
her last moments by rehearsing fragments of the 
various plays in which she had been famous. 
Modjeska^s acting left nothing to be desired, but 
the prostitution of her finished art in such miser- 
able trash was a melancholy spectacle. 

In February, 1898, Madame Modjeska opened 
a short engagement in the Fifth Avenue Theater 
with a revival of ''Mary Stuart,** a play asso- 
ciated with many of her earliest triimiphs. The 
character of the luckless Queen — the stage char- 
acter, that is — was one to which her artistic 
temperament and methods were peculiarly well 
adapted. She was beginning now to show the 
signs of advancing years. The electric energj^ of 
her prime was diminishing, but the cunning of 
ripe experience more than compensated any loss 
of physical vigor. Her intellect was as alert and 
her dramatic instinct as sure as ever; and if her 
execution was, in a certain indefinable way, a little 
less sharp and instantaneous than of yore, it re- 
tained all its suggestiveness, appropriateness, 

276 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

and charm. It is only in really great ading, 
such as hers, that minor details cease to be im- 
portant. In the case of ordinary well-trained bnt 
tminspired performers it is easy to note even 
insignificant delinqnencies, bnt the great actor, by 
establishing complete momentary illusion, so daz- 
zles the perception that all sense of the means 
employed is lost in recognition of the effect. She 
never played Mary with more symmetrical 
beanty, a happier combination of royal dignity, 
feminine charm, and poignant pathos than in 
these latter days. The climax of scorn and fury 
to which she attained in the famous encounter 
with Elizabeth was magnificent, and her approach 
to it through various gradations of emotions, 
ever increasing in intensity, as her imperious 
antagonist proved herself impregnable to defer- 
ence, entreaty, expostulation, or protest, was a 
wonderful feat of artistic calculation. In the 
closing scenes, the parting from her attendants, 
the passage with Burleigh, the farewell to Leices- 
ter, and her final exit to the block, the spiritual 
elevation and unaffected pathos of her acting 
held the spectators rapt in silence and dissolved 
in tears. On the whole, her impersonation can 
be ranked with those of Eistori and Janauschek. 
Both these actresses excelled her in the highest 
flights of tragic passion, largely owing to their 

277 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER W 
possession of greater physical power, but neither 
of them was her eqnal in respect to romantic 
fascination. 

It was her saccess in "Mary Stnart," possi- 
bly, that prompted her to impersonate another 
unfortunate queen, Marie Antoinette, in a pseudo- 
historical drama written for her by Clinton Stu- 
art. The piece itself, though in no way remark- 
able, was a respectable effort, and not unskilful in 
its dramatic contrasts between the frivolous life at 
Little Trianon and the sufferings and humiliations 
culminating at the guillotine. The virtues of the 
heroine were, as might be expected, somewhat 
absurdly exaggerated, but Mr. Stuart was far 
more fortunate than Clyde Fitch in his attempt to 
provide an effective vehicle for the display of 
Modjeska's talents. She illuminated the some- 
what trivial and conventional court scenes in the 
opening act by means of her sparkling byplay 
and infectious natural humor that gave special 
brilliancy to all her light comedy work. Her 
mimicry of an amateur performer was a delight- 
ful bit of refined burlesque. In the second act, 
in an interview with Mirabeau — the best scene 
of the play — when she contended vainly for her 
supposed rights as Queen, and was forced by the 
inexorable logic of circumstances to make hate- 
ful concessions, she exhibited all her old facility 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

in interpreting a variety of impulses and emo- 
tions — suspicion, hauteur, anger, humiliation and 
counterfeit resignation. She addressed an angry 
mob in the Tuileries with a splendid assimiption 
of queenly dignity and courage, exerted all her 
old power of pathos in the successive incidents 
connected with the trial and execution of her 
husband and herself, and afforded one of her 
most striking exhibitions of superb tragic passion 
at the moment when, by an inhuman decree, she 
was separated from the Dauphin. This was 
her one great chance in the play, which might 
have been more fruitful in this respect, and she 
availed herself of it to the fullest. Her indi- 
vidual success was brilliant, but, as was often the 
case, she was badly handicapped by the poverty 
of her support, and especially by the doleful and 
woeful Louis of Mr. John E. Kellerd. The per- 
formance would have profited much if the exe- 
cution of that monarch had been expedited. 

In closing this sketch of an actress who was 
undoubtedly one of the greatest of modern times, 
it is only necessary to refer briefly to her Lady 
Macbeth. This was a character which she never 
could fully grasp or express. The formidable 
essence of it was foreign to her nature and ap- 
parently beyond her power of perception. She 
did nothing ill, and in her performance there 

279 




SIXTY TEARS OF THE THEATER 

was much to excite interest and admirationi but 
it never gripped the imagination or stirred flie 
pnlse. It was only in the sleep-waUdiig soane^ 
in which few actresses have failed completely, 
that she was reaUy fine, and even in that there 
was something wanting. She furnished a won- 
derful and distressful picture of remorseful de- 
spair, but she stirred feelings of pity only, not of 
dread and horror. It was in the forceful and 
tragic note that the whole embodiment was de- 
ficient When I saw it for the last time, in 190(V it 
did not differ materially from what it was years be- 
f ore, although it had gained somewhat in smooth- 
ness and consistency. Again she was miserably 
supported. Her Macbeth, John E. Kellerd, mur- 
dered many things besides sleep. But even when 
she had Edwin Booth for the Thane she was not 
much inspired by his example. It was plain that 
the part was one with which she had little affinity. 
Great emotional actress as she was, she had not 
the vigor or the impulse for tragedy of the sever- 
est and most heroic order. It was in comedy, 
social or romantic, melodrama, and in poetic 
romance that her versatility, imaguiation, emo- 
tional eloquence, and almost inexhaustible artis- 
try were manifested most triumphantly. For 
many years she was the brightest feminine orna- 
ment of the American stage, and when it is 

280 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

remembered that she played in what was not her 
native tongue, and often amid most discouraging 
surroundings, her career and achievement will 
appear yet more remarkable. 

The recent reference to Ristori suggests that 
this may be a convenient place to speak of her 
farewell visit to this country in the winter of 
1884-85. Ten years before, in the full bloom of 
her genius, with an Italian company, she had 
appeared in New York in a series of the char- 
acterizations that had won for her an almost 
world-wide fame. Then every tribute of critical 
and popular admiration was laid at her feet. In 
all that she did she proved herself a great artist 
and an actress of the first rank, although, even 
in her most exalted moments, she never suggested 
any comparison with the overwhelming power or 
astonishing versatility of Salvini. I saw all those 
performances. Her Elizabeth was generally ac- 
knowledged to be her masterpiece, and, beyond 
question, it was a wonderful feat of impersona- 
tion, embodying the popular ideal of England's 
Virgin Queen with extraordinary felicity. The 
haughty carriage, imperious address, fierce tem- 
per, blunt humor, masculine sagacity, petty van- 
ity, and feminine jealousy, were all indicated 
with surpassing skill and blended into a consis- 
tent whole with finished artistry. The perform- 

281 



L- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ance was a very fine one, but there was nothing 
in it significant of phenomenal capacity. I re- 
member that a number of contemporary com- 
mentators dilated upon the scene, which has 
legendary, if not historical, warrant, in which the 
Queen dictates two dispatches simultaneously 
while maintaining an ordinary conversation, as 
an extraordinary demonstration of the mental 
power of the actress. It really was a clever piece 
of acting, but the credit for the original conceit 
belonged, of course, to the dramatist, Giacometti, 
who invented it. But the fact that it was ac- 
corded to Eistori, who simply followed the stage 
directions and spoke the words that she had 
learned by rote, is a striking indication of the 
success with which she identified herself with 
the fictitious character. 

It was an evil hour in which she permitted 
herself to be tempted to repeat in English the 
triumphs she had won in her native Italian. Pos- 
sibly she was influenced by the example of Mod- 
jeska, or hoped to conquer another hemisphere 
like Salvini. But the latter, wise in his way as 
Bernhardt in hers, never could be persuaded to 
act in any language but his own. lie did agree, 
indeed, to a polyglot arrangement in itself wholly 
indefensible, but was able to silence hostile com- 
ment by the brilliancy with which he overcame 

282 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

all obstacles. Bistoriy howevery in undertaking 
to act in a language of which she knew little or 
nothing, and which she was too old to acquire, 
voluntarily accepted a fatal handicap. Nor was 
this the only diflSculty with which she had to con- 
tend. The public was apathetic, and her man- 
agers, presumably with the notion of making a 
larger profit (it is pleasant to reflect that they 
must have lost heavily), engaged for her support 
a company that can only be described as ex- 
ecrable. The result was disastrous. She elected 
to appear first as Elizabeth, and must have been 
chilled to the heart when, instead of the vast, 
brilliant, and enthusiastic audience of other years, 
she saw before her a beggarly array of empty 
benches. Whether she had been forgotten by her 
former admirers, or they were fearful of shat- 
tering pleasing illusions, boots not to inquire. 
She was deserted even by her compatriots. 

There was small cause for wonder, perhaps, 
at the enormous difference between the Eistori 
of the present and the Eistori of the past. Not 
that the famous Italian revealed any symptoms 
of decay in bodily vigor or dramatic aptitude. 
Her presence was as stalwart and handsome, 
her voice as full and rich, and her movements 
as energetic as before, but her acting seemed to 
have been bereft of its most salient character- 

283 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

istics, spontaneity, subtlety, finish, and fire. It 
seemed as if the shackles of the unfamiliar llng- 
lish — against which she vainly struggled — ^had af- 
fected her acting faculties with a pervading and 
disabling paralysis. There were occasional 
gleams of the ancient fire, in the scene wifh 
Essex, for instance, in the episode of signing 
Mary's death warrant, and again in the defiance 
of Spain — which reverberated with patriotic 
spirit — but the impersonation, in its entirety, 
was colorless and ineffective in comparison with 
that of the preceding decade. She was no more 
successful when she made her second essay as 
Marv Stuart. Once or twice she recalled memo- 
ries of hor ancient self, as in the encounter with 
Elizabeth at Fothoringay, and in the dignified 
pathos of the concluding act, but compared with 
her earlier impersonations this one was but as 
the shadow of a shade. Her final appearance was 
made as Lady Macbeth, and on this occasion, for 
the first time, she was greeted by an audience 
of respectable size. This evidently encouraged 
her, for in the great crises of the tragedy she 
exhibited flashes of the power which had once 
raised thunders of applause. It is possible that 
if she had played in Italian she might, by her 
own unaided prowess, have turned defeat into 
victory, even with the serio-comic cast which 

284 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

was not the least of her impediments, but as it 
was she was crushed and dispirited by the weight 
of accumulated misfortunes. Seldom has a great 
career ended so sadly. Perhaps there may be a 
modicum of consolation in the thought that the 
collapse was not due to senile decay of mind or 
body, but to a grievous mistake on her part and 
the greedy and foolish mismanagement of her 
commercial agents. She was still Bistori. It was 
not a case of the veteran lagging superfluous 
upon the stage. 



285 




XX 

HENBY IRVING AND ELLEN TEBBY 

^STBT lEvmo and Ellen Teny were vezy xnom- 
inent Sgnxw upon the New York stage daring 
the last fifteen yean of the nineteenth oeDtnry. 
They appeared in many lunF oharactera, bnt tile 
enlargement of their repertory was not attended 
by any notable development of their histrionic 
powers, but rather confirmed the partial smnmary 
of them made in the earlier chapters of these 
notes. It will not be necessary, therefore, in a 
sketchy narrative of this sort to analyze every 
fresh performance top particularly. In 1885, they 
began a new season here with W. G. Wills 's roman- 
tic melodrama, "Eugene Aram," which numifestly 
was intended to furnish Mr. Irving with a char- 
acter akin to that of Mathias in "The Bells," 
which was so nicely suited to his artistic idio- 
syncrasies. He already, it may be remembered, 
had attracted wide attention by his thrilling reci- 
tation of Hood's poem on the remorseful school- 
master. In his play, written with his customary 
cleverness, Mr. Wills sacrificed every considera- 
tion of probability and truth to his poetic and 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

dramatic, or rather theatrical, necessity. He pic- 
tured Aram as an innocent and harmless scholar, 
who, in a paroxysm of righteous fury, under 
intense provocation, had stricken down a villain 
who had cruelly betrayed the girl with whom he 
was in love. In the circumstances it was not 
easy to believe in the likelihood of a remorse 
which killed the homicide in the end after tor- 
turing him for fifteen years. Moreover, this vio- 
lent modification of the original story made the 
terrible influence which the villain. Houseman, was 
supposed to exercise over his victim wholly illogi- 
cal and not a little absurd. The play carried no 
conviction with it, and was only a moderate suc- 
cess in spite of its admirable performance and 
beautiful setting. 

Irving, as usual, was more successful in his 
suggestion of suppressed than in his utterance of 
liberated passion. As a grave lover, plunged 
in moody melancholy, he played with charming 
refinement and delicacy, but he was most im- 
pressive in a scene with his evil genius. House- 
man, in which he had to portray the triumph of 
will over physical terror and racking anxiety, and 
of sheer intellect over brutal ruffianism. His 
individual mentality was ever one of the most 
potent elements in Irving 's acting. This was most 
vividly expressed in the rigid lines of his resolute 

287 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

but haggard face as he confronted and gradually 
overawed his burly and savage adversary — ^por- 
trayed with rugged realism by Wenman — and 
the mocking laugh with which he proclaimed his 
superiority, when the battle had been won, was a 
master stroke of theatrical art, although the note 
of victorious rascality sounded in it was Scarcely 
in full accordance with the supposed nature of 
the man. But when he surrendered himself to a 
paroxysm of remorse he resorted to exaggera- 
tions of speech and gesture which bordered so 
closely on burlesque that irrevent obser\'ers tit- 
tered. Nearly all his tragic or semi-tragic imper- 
sonations were marred by hysterical ineptitudes 
of this kind. In his case they can not be ascribed 
to any deficiency in artistic intelligence. I believe 
that they were largely due to efforts on his part 
to produce effects — clearly conceived in his own 
mind — which he had not the muscular or vocal 
strength to realize. Partly they were abominable 
mannerisms, as were some of his elocutionarv 
tricks. Within certain limits of intensity he could 
simulate hysterical abandonment with indisput- 
able veracity. A notable instance of this was his 
description of the murder, which was exceedingly 
well done. Ellen Terry, as the heroine, was 
fj^raceful, charming, and sympathetic in her own 
delightful way. 

288 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

In 1887 Mr. Irving brought to this country the 
version of the first part of *^ Faust/' which W, 
G. Wills had made with a special view to spec- 
tacle and the exhibition of his Mephistopheles. 
Upon this production he had lavished every form 
of attraction suggested by experience, taste, or 
liberality. A more beautiful, artistic, or imag- 
inative setting has rarely, if ever, been seen upon 
the stage. Did space permit it would be pleasant 
to dwell upon the pictorial qualities of such 
scenes as those of the St. Lorenz Platz and the 
Bevels of the Brocken. In these, and others, the 
picturesque realism was so complete that no fan- 
ciful symbolism was needed to reinforce it. Mr. 
Irving was accused, in some quarters, of having 
sacrificed some of his professional dignity in 
adopting commercial methods and offering gor- 
geous pictures as compensation for an inferior 
play. But this was scarcely fair. The play 
itself, it is true, was not very precious, either 
as literature or drama, but it was founded upon 
a masterpiece, and was neither undignified nor 
trivial. At the worst, it was a play which was 
not altogether worthy of its superlatively rich 
setting. The Mephistopheles of Irving, alone, 
would have made it worth while. This was not a 
great creation — the part itself had nothing in 
common with the Miltonic fiend, the arch enemy, 

289 




SIXTY TEARS OF THE THEATBB 

of faded splendor wan — ^but it was eztraozdi- 
narily dever and interesting, with a fine flavor 
of the diabolio, perf eotly consistent in its aardonie 
hnmor and malignity and its intelleetnal alacrity. 
In pose and aotion it was constantly indioatiye 
of vast and persistent energy, while in f adal ex- 
pression it was, as might have been expected, 
singularly eloquent The invariable expertness 
of the actor in giving the most pr^^nant empha- 
sis to a cynical line was utilized to the ntmoat in 
this character. His utterance of his apostrophe 
regarding Martha, **I wonder where she will go 
when she dies. I won't have her,*' was delicions. 
The ironical malevolence underlying the af- 
fected bonhomie in the first temptation scene of 
Faust, finding expression in the steely glitter of 
his observant eyes and the cruel smile flickering 
about the comers of his implacable lips, was full 
of menace, and every detail of his byplay as he 
hungrily watched Margaret in her chamber, was 
most subtly conceived. There was terrible elo- 
quence in the furtive twitching of his fingers, 
when he placed the jewels around her neck, as 
if, by anticipation, he already had her soul in his 
clutches. There was weird significance in the 
saturnine gravity of his wooing scenes with Mar- 
tha, his quietude being far more formidable than 
his occasional outbursts of rage. There was noth- 

290 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ing awful in his **I'll tear you all to pieces,'* or in 
his ** Hither to me!'* when he made his final exit 
with Faust. On the other hand, he created an 
effect of genuine terror when he abandoned him- 
self to a fit of unearthly laughter in the Brocken 
scene. In this outburst of savage glee there was 
the echo of an unfathomable despair which was 
truly tragic. It was an intellectual conception 
finely executed. 

In presence this Mephistopheles, tall, gaunt, 
active, assured in poise, and with keen, ascetic 
face, was a picturesque figure that gripped atten- 
tion. Never for an instant did it savor of the 
ordinary or of burlesque. It was from first to 
last a felicitous embodiment of the spirit that 
denies, and had nothing in common with the 
conventional theatrical demon, even where the 
play was most theatrical. Always intellectual, 
it was especially notable for the superfine edge 
of its mockery. As for Ellen Terry, she was a 
different Margaret from any ever dreamed of 
before, but one of exquisite charm. In her bed- 
room scene her assumption of girlish youth and 
complete innocence was wonderful. She looked 
and acted as a virgin of eighteen. I can think 
of no other actress who could have interpreted 
this episode with such innocent unconsciousness. 
Her lovemaking was all that is tender and grace- 

291 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ful, and her grief most pretty and pathetic. She 
evoked a storm of applause by the simple kissing 
of her lover's hand, so eloquent was the gesture 
of love and faith dnd sweet submission. In the 
dungeon scene she repeated the triumph of her 
Ophelia and virtually by identical methods. 
George Alexander was a manly, graceful, and 
ardent Faust. 

In '^The Vicar of WakefieW (^^Olivia*') of 
W. G. Wills, which he produced in 1888, Mr. Irv- 
ing won one of his greatest popular successes in 
this country. This he owed partly to the appeal 
of the play itself, partly to the generally ad- 
mirable performance of it, and partly to the artis- 
tic beauty and appropriateness of his scenic 
accessories. For gorgeous spectacle, of course, 
there was no opportunity. The charm and value 
of the setting resided in the exquisite fitness and 
harmony of the surroundings, the delicate and 
unerring perception with which the spirit and 
atmosphere of the homely tale were caught and 
preserved, and the skill with which every minor 
detail was designed to heighten and maintain 
illusion. Even the supernumeraries, villagers, and 
others were living, sentient, and purposeful crea- 
tures. Children actually played, old folk gos- 
sipped, the younger swains paid court to their 
chosen fair, and on all sides were the subdued hum 

292 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

and motion of real life. The parlor of the vicar- 
age — the picture lives in the memory like some 
famous old canvas — ^was perfect in tone and deco- 
ration, with its old spinet, chairs, and tables, the 
fireplace with its accoutrements, the latticed win- 
dow with its cosy recesses. A less tactful and 
dainty manager would have fallen into the error 
of overfumishing, but there was neither too much 
nor too little, just enough to indicate a condition 
of modest ease. A companion picture was pro- 
vided in the fourth act, where the good doctor 
and his rescued daughter stepped from the snow 
and moonlight without into the darkness of the 
deserted home. It is worth while, even at this 
distance, to recall the pictorial beauty of these 
incidents, because, in their veracity, insight, and 
significance, they illustrate the potentialities of 
an art peculiar to the stage, but very rarely ex- 
hibited in its perfection. 

The performance, as a whole, was worthy of its 
frame. The impersonation of the Vicar by 
Henry Irving, admirable in many ways, was 
marred by many exasperating blemishes. In the 
first act there was much to praise and little to 
criticize. Inevitable curiosities of enunciation 
occurred occasionally, but nothing to offend seri- 
ously the sensibilities of eyes or ears. It was 
not wholly the Primrose of Goldsmith, having a 

293 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

tinge of melancholy and a certain scholastic air 
not usually associated with the idea of the sim- 
ple, sturdy, combative country parson, but it was 
winning in its gentle, natural dignity and pater- 
nal tenderness. The devoted love of a father 
for a favorite daughter could scarcely have been 
indicated more eloquently than it was by Mr. 
Irving in the scenes between the Vicar and Olivia. 
He really suggested the idolatry for which he 
expected to be punished sooner or later. But 
when he came to the point in the second act where 
he was called upon to give vent to the rage and 
anguish with which his heart was wrung, when 
he heard of that beloved child's ruin, he failed 
to rise to the emergency. Never surely did virile 
rage or grief ' manifest itself in such incoherent 
fashion. All the poignancy of the scene was de- 
stroyed by the transparent artificiality and insin- 
cerity of the means employed. His sjTnbols were 
arbitrary, unnatural, and unintelligible. Affec- 
tation so inscrutable, following simplicity so con- 
vincing was doubly irritating. He made amends 
for much of this in the third act, by the dignified 
restraint of his rebuke to Thornhill, in which he 
expressed, with infective realism, the quiver of an 
emotion too deep for utterance, and by his touch- 
ing manifestation of compassionate love upon the 
restoration of his daughter. The Olivia of Ellen 

294 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Terry was endowed with all the indescribable 
personal charm of her personality. It was the 
same type of womanhood which she had presented 
many times before, but was none the less fresh 
because of its familiarity. In airy grace, playful- 
ness, archness, and plaintive melancholy it was 
bewitching, but it stirred no true chord of pas- 
sion or despair. The most memorable feature of 
it was the ebullition of joy with which she re- 
ceived permission from her betrayer to return 
to her home. George Alexander played Thorn- 
hill with skill and ability, indicating the coarse and 
selfish nature of the rake with suflScient clear- 
ness, but not so aggressively as to deprive him 
of all sympathy. 

No other actor — since Macready, at any rate — 
but Irving would have had the courage, even if 
he had the capacity, to produce the **Becket'^ of 
Lord Tennyson. He was attracted, of course, 
by the character of the able, bold, and ambitious 
priest, which was in many ways eminently well 
suited to his artistic powers and temperament, 
but would not venture to play it until he had ob- 
tained permission to make important structural 
changes in a work but ill-adapted for stage rep- 
resentation. No justification is needed for his ef- 
fort to reinforce it by all legitimate spectacular 
means. But his setting was not of the flashy or con- 

295 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
ventional kind. In tone, in drawing, in perspec- 
tive, and in architectural and chronological accu- 
racy hia pictures were all that the most fastidious 
critic could desire. They supplemented, but did 
not dominate, the play. His Becket, although 
of imequal excellence, was a noble and authori- 
tative performance. His mannerisms grew more 
persistent and aggressive with advancing years, 
but the refinement and austerity of his style 
(when in repose) and the intellectual and ascetic 
cast of his counteuance were in nice harmony with 
the character of the high-minded and imperious 
prelate. He was at his best in the earlier 
scenes, as, for instance, when playing at chess 
with the King, in his sympathetic delivery of 
the pretty passage comparing women with flow- 
ers, in his grave reception of the King's confi- 
dences concerning Bosamnnd, and in his attitude 
during the King 's offer of the archbishopric. 
His changed manner in the second act, when the 
impulse of the soldier and statesman is in con- 
flict with the spiritual enthusiasm of the priest, 
revealed his thorough comprehension of the char- 
acter as drawn by Tennyson, and nothing conld 
be much truer or more pathetic than his por- 
trayal of utter weariness beneath the heavy load 
of a double responsibility. Excellent again were 
his delivery of the fine soliloquy "Am I the 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

manT"y his paternal treatment of Rosamund and 
his contemptuous dismissal of Fitzurse. In all 
these passages his choicest abilities were dis- 
played. Very noble was his dauntless bearing 
before the hostile bishops at Northampton Castle, 
but, quite characteristically, in the more exact- 
ing episodes attending the King's entry and 
withdrawal, he had recourse to some of his worst 
tricks of speech and gesture. In the fourth act 
he made a great recovery. Patient endurance, 
indomitable will, and spiritual exaltation were 
denoted with inspiring effect in the final scene 
with Rosamund, in the encounter with the mur- 
derous knights, and in the closing interview with 
John of Salisbury. The end of the tragedy, with 
its superb stage management, was splendidly im- 
pressive. As Rosamund, Ellen Terry was a crea- 
ture of ethereal loveliness and grace, provoking 
tender sympathy, but no deeper feeling. Terriss 
was good as the King, and Jessie Millward filled 
Eleanor with vindictive energy. 

In December, 1893, Mr. Irving produced 
* * Henry VIII, ' ' and it is safe to say that no such 
impressive representation of the play had been 
seen before in this country. The richness, solid- 
ity, and accuracy of the settings, the splendor 
and vitality of the groupings, and the level excel- 
lence of the performance all contributed to its 

297 




SSSTT TEARS OF THE THEATER 

artistie and edacati0iial Talua. AmofDg the pio- 
tnres irldcli remain most vividly impreBsed npon 
tile memory are the dimly lighted hall in the 
palace at BrideweU, whose lofty walls and gloomy 
aspect lent sinister significance to the dramatic 
encomiter of the Cardinal and his predestined 
foe; the quaintly decorated comunl chamber in 
the palace, and the great hall at York, with its 
golden throne and canopy, its throng of gayty 
dressed guests, and its masked dance, one of the 
prettiest old-time measures seen on the stage for 
many a day. Particularly fine in perspective, 
distance, and atmosphere was the Eong's Stairs, 
Westminister, where the fated Buckingham, with 
the broad and shining river and a distant city 
at his back, delivered his dying speech to ani- 
mated groups of soldiers, sheriffs, and civilians. 
No less remarkable in color and effect was the 
interior at Blackfriars, with the Court assembled 
for the trial of the Queen. On the left, on his 
throne, sat the King, in full pomp, girded by 
courtiers and attendants; in the middle fore- 
ground, around a long table, were ranged the sec- 
retaries and other officials in their robes; on the 
right was the accused Queen, a blaze of gold, 
jewels, and embroidery, supported by her house- 
hold; and in the center, on a raised dais, the 
dominating presence of the two scarlet Cardinals, 

298 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Wolsey and Campeins, the real manipulators of 
all the pnppets at their feet. The coronation 
procession of Anne Bnllen fnmished another 
scene of extraordinary spectacular brilliancy, 
while the vision of angels hovering above the 
dying Elatharine was a transparency of rare deli- 
cacy and beauty. 

And the interpretation of the play was worthy 
of the decoration bestowed upon it The Wolsey 
of Irving, virtually an original conception, pro- 
voked a wide diversity of critical opinion here 
and in England. It differed radically from that 
of most of his famous predecessors, and con- 
stantly diallenged attack and admiration. Cer- 
tainly it was not the Wolsey of tradition, but 
forceful intellect was in every fiber of it. Pic- 
torially it filled the stage and almost monopolized 
the attention of the spectator. Scarcely an in- 
stant passed but some suggestive look, pose, or 
gesture gave a flash of illumination to the dra- 
matic scene. It might be said that the theatrical 
design of it all was too apparent. Men of Wol- 
sey's strong, resolute, and intriguing type do not 
wear their hearts upon their sleeves for daws to 
peck at. Moreover, this Wolsey had a suppleness 
and refinement inconsistent with the lowness of 
his origin and that pugnacious disposition which 
induced Buckingham to liken him to a butcher's 

299 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

cor, by which he probably meant either a mastiff 
or a bulldog. The real Wolsey— imless he is 
much belied — although he oonld be a crafty cour- 
tier, on occasion, rarely laid aside the arrogance 
commonly associated with the upstart And this 
attitude was lacking in the composition of Irv- 
ing 's Wolsey, which was keen, imperious, inflexi- 
ble, unscrupulous, sardonic^ and capable, but not 
massive. It had not the dogged and unhesitant 
impulse denoted in the text and in Wolsey's bull- 
like front and heavy jowl. Sometimes it was 
curiously suggestive of Mephistopheles playing 
priest for his purposes. But it was consistent 
with itself, thoroughly artistic in design, and exe- 
cuted with infinite delicacy of finish. Altogether 
it was a great performance and a fascinating por- 
trait, notably free from the actor's most aggra- 
vating eccentricities. In the closing scenes it was 
finely pathetic. 

The Katharine of Ellen Terry excelled expec- 
tation. It had not the somber touch of tragedy 
that should ennoble it, but it was womanly to the 
core and thoroughly royal in deportment. In 
the trial scene her appeal to the King was deliv- 
ered with beautiful sincerity, and her rebuke to 
the Cardinal, if not electric, was exceedingly ef- 
fective. In the interview with the two Cardi- 
nals she displayed an unwonted amount of dra- 

300 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

matic energy, and her death scene was deeply 
moving, withont any excess of painfnl realism. 
Considering the fact that the part lay outside her 
histrionic frontiers, she mnst be credited with 
an artistic triumph. The King of Terriss was a 
clever effort, boisterous rather than strong, and 
lacking in spontaneous choler, but virile and pic- 
turesque. The general representation set a stand- 
ard which is not likely to be attained, or ap- 
proached, in the near future.* 

Two years later Mr. Irving, greatly daring, 
produced ** Macbeth.** As an artistic, able, and 
conscientious manager he more than justified 
his reputation; as an actor he demonstrated his 
insuflSciency in parts of the highest tragic import. 
Pictorially his representation of the tragedy was 
the most imaginative and impressive of modem 
times. The weird sisters, for the first time in 
many a weary year, became unearthly in their 
vague surroundings of elemental confusion and 
terror. Never substantial — like the ragged scare- 
crows that so often have excited derision — they 
came and vanished in the air, ghastly vocal shad- 
ows, outlined in sulphurous fumes by flashes of 
lightning to accompaniments of crashing thunder. 
They delivered their lines with all proper em- 
phasis and appropriately wild gesture. The caul- 

* It has not been approached yet (June, 1916). 

301 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
dron, no longer a gypsy soup-kettle, was a crater 
in a mountain top, from whose rugged jaws the 
apparitions rose with slow solemnity, to titter 
their oracles with due reverence for meter and 
text. Hecate soared in space with the chorns 
of her inWsible attendants floating around her in 
melodious echoes. The mortal incidents were 
presented with equal tact and comprehension. 
One striking picture was that of old Duncan at 
the head of his court, listening to the story of 
the wounded sergeant, while the bystanders dis- 
cussed the news of the battle. Another was the 
reception of the King at the entrance to Mac- 
beth's castle, where the train of princes, nobles, 
and soldiers made a gallant show, as, with waving 
tartans and shining steel, they followed their 
aged monarch and his smiling hostess, to be swal- 
lowed up in the recesses behind those frowning 
portals. Yet a third was the banquet hall with 
its long row of guests and its simple and novel 
arrangement of tables, by which the chair of the 
mnrdered Banqno and the raised platform of the 
King and Queen were brought into the same line 
of vision. The Ghost itself did not appear in 
bodily form, but was represented only by a gleam 
of light upon the vacant seat, a device that left 
more scope to the imagination and was infinitely 
preferable to the conventional gashed and all too 

302 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

manifestly solid specter. The closing scenes, 
around the castle of Dunsioane, with their 
glimpses of savage areas beneath dark and 
threatening skies, touched here and there with 
the fires of an angry sunset, with rushes of 
armed men across the shadows, were in the nicest 
harmony with the spirit of the tragedy. 

With a Macbeth of heroic dimensions the repre- 
sentation would have marked an epoch in the- 
atrical history. Unfortunately, this was wanting. 
In no other character that he assumed did Henry 
Irving give such free rein to the eccentricities 
which marred so many of his most ambitious 
efforts. He was plainly overweighted. Con- 
scious, perhaps, of his inability to impersonate 
the heroical elements of the character, he relied 
upon his own extraordinary capacity for the de- 
lineation of the physical symptoms of rage, fear 
and despair in a cowardly and guilty soul. His 
Macbeth was a degenerate, not only depraved 
but contemptible, a creature so weak as to be 
incapable of meditating a bold and ambitious 
stroke, let alone executing it. His conception 
of the part, in itself inadmissible, was made yet 
more futile by the frequent incomprehensibility 
of his utterance. In some of his more passionate 
scenes he might just as well have been talking 
Volapiik. To the eye his acting was often vividly 

303 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

STiggestive and illuminative. The play of 
features as he listened to the promptings of his 
wife and his own evil genius, his significant ges- 
tures and rapt expression while tracing the flight 
of the air-drawn dagger, his terror at the Ohost, 
and his agony of despair as he realized the jug- 
gling of the fiends, were marvels of pantomimic 
skill. His bearing was instinct with picturesque 
horror, but the criminal he impersonated was of 
far baser fiber than Macbeth. Ellen Terry's as- 
sumption of the guilty Queen was intelligent and 
intelligible, but she was wholly out of her depth. 
Mr. Irving made ample amends for the com- 
parative fiasco of -Iiis Macbeth when he presented 
the '*King Arthur" of Comyns Carr. This was 
a notable essay in the cause of romantic drama. 
In risking comparison with Tennyson's ^' Idyls of 
the King,'' ^Ir. Carr was somewhat adventur- 
ous, l)ut he passed the ordeal with credit. 
His play was not a great one, but it was written 
in fluent, gra(;eful, and often imaginative verse, 
told an interesting story, and offered opportuni- 
ties for spectacular illustration of which Mr. 
Irving, of course, did not fail to avail himself. 
He would have been wiser, perhaps, if he had 
not attemi)ted quite so much, if he had confined 
himself to some of the more familiar episodes in 
the Arthurian legends, instead of trying to cover 



i 

4 



• I 



Oi 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

the whole period — ^from Arthur's aoquirement of 
Excalibnr to his death — ^but he succeeded in pro- 
ducing one of the most notable poetic dramas 
of recent years. As Arthur, Henry Irving was 
seen at his best. The plot was one in which 
his intellect and imagination had free play and 
in which no excessive demand was made upon his 
physical resources. His impersonation was at 
once dignified, romantic, and himian, full of spir- 
itual elevation, lofty resolution, superb courtesy, 
exquisite tenderness, and complete devotion. Few 
executive flaws dimmed the beauty of the design. 
His voice was resonant, his elocution crisp, and 
the rhythm of his delivery generally admirable. 
Had he not, on many occasions, demonstrated his 
elocutionary skill, so much insistence upon his 
frequent eccentricities in utterance would 
scarcely have been justifiable. His acting in the 
prologue, at the magic mere, left little to be de- 
sired. His carriage had distinction, his gesture 
was bold, free, and majestic, and his enunciation 
perfect. He fully maintained this high level 
of excellence through the first act, in the gallan- 
try of his bearing toward the Queen, in the king- 
liness of his reception and dismissal of the 
Knights, and in the trustful simplicity of his love 
for Lancelot. At the supreme moment of the 
revelation of Guinevere's infidelity, his acting 

305 



a 



SSSXY YKARP OF THE THBAT^t 
was exoeeding^y forceful and pathetic. Mratel 
^tigniwli and beroio endnranoe were aignifiad in 
ereiy line of bis anguished and rigid faoe and fa 
erery Dote of his grave and messiuredspeedL Hw 
death soene, with its noble resignation, was a flt- 
tiog oUmax to a oonsistentiy fine, ronantio^ ani 
dramatio aohieveinent Th«re were depths fa 
Gninevere which Ellen Terry could not f atimi^ 
hut she made a lovely and gracious flgoreu Hot 
sng^^estion, in the early scenes with the Sng, ^ 
tiie straggle in her heart between love and dafy 
was very delicate and sabtle, and her begoilemeDt 
of Lancelot into a confession of his gnilty passion 
was a charming bit of feminine artifice, while her 
cnlminating avalanche of womanly feeling was 
finely sincere and spontaneons. In the rendes- 
vous of the lovers in the wood the ardor of 
Lancelot, beside hers, glowed with but a pale 
fire. The dignity and courage she displayed in 
repulsing the traitor, Mordred, in the prison, 
were altogether qneenlike. 

Toward the end of bis memorable career, 
Henry Irving delighted his admirers with two 
little studies — ^little more than thumbnail sketches 
— which for pare artistry must be accounted 
among his happier achievements. The first in 
order was that of Don Quixote in a two-act piece 
by "W. Gt. Wills, which actually was a bit of ei- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

travaganza. With the immortal satire of Cervan- 
tes it had only the most shadowy connection. 
Mnch of it was mere horseplay, bnt Irving made 
of the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance a 
portrait worthy of a much more dignified and per- 
manent setting. Physically — the resources of art 
emphasizing some natural qualifications — the 
actor presented an almost ideal embodiment of 
this famous conception. The lean, gaunt, angular 
frame, the grave and wasted visage, the solemn, 
almost sepulchral, dignity of voice and carriage 
were reproduced with startling fidelity— as if, by 
some miracle, one of Dore's studies had been 
brought to life — but all this was simply the result 
of mimetic art. The real greatness of the imper- 
sonation consisted in the lofty, fanatical spirit 
with which the grotesque, but never ridiculous, 
figure was illumined and ennobled. There were 
traces of this spirit in Irving 's finely imagined 
Malvolio, but in his Don Quixote it burned with 
infinitely more brightness and power. 

The ludicrous externals of his poor, distraught 
knight, all denoted with realistic accuracy, became 
deeply pathetic in the light of his intense convic- 
tion, his superb vanity, his courtesy exquisite in 
spite of its extravagance, the genuine tenderness 
and dauntless chivalry underlying his crazy de- 
meanor. The comic and the sad were mingled so 

307 




BZXTT TEABS OP THE. THSASEB 

dexterondj in thifl fragment of arUiUe moflkny, 
«q)edal^ in die opening soenae, tfaitt tiie'spee- 
tator souoely knew whether to pay it tiie trihote 
of langhter or tears. Of its smpaarang merit as 
aetii^, wholly apart from the inapiratum in 0w 
design, there can be no qneotion. ^niroaghont 
the plt^r maintained hia grip upon the ehaiac- 
ter, with nndeviating oonaiBteaeyf iriiether in&t- 
ing a letter to I>iil<aneaf reading some ramsntie 
legend, nnfolding Mb plans of oampaign, or rai- 
ning a tilt against the pomp whioh did dofy fior 
a windmill. The impersonation was an histrionk 
gem. 

"Worthy to mate with it was Irving's pictnre 
of the nonagenarian corporal who had won a 
medal at Waterloo for driving a powder wagon 
through a wall of fire. For this opportunity he 
was indebted to the pen of Conan Doyle. The 
piece itaelf was a trifle, but clever in its swift 
Bommary of the penalties of extreme old age — 
even when most vigorous — the loss of memory 
and nerve, the qnenilousness, garrulity, selfish- 
ness, and loneliness accompanying it. Mr. Irving, 
as the old soldier, made a study of the homeliest 
realism, which was in the broadest possible con- 
trast with his idealistic portr^t of the Don. 
Marvelously "made np" he filled in Dr. Doyle's 
outlines with minute, almost painful veraci^, 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

with immmerable tonches of grim hnmor and 
simple pathos, and with an infallible sense of 
theatrical effect. In all the details of senile 
speech and action his stndy was one of pre- 
Eaphaelite precision. The very filling of his 
pipe was effected with a delicate byplay prompted 
by the closest observation. In a hundred little 
ways he made the embodiment vital. His inter- 
est in a passing regiment, his amazement at a 
modern breech-loader, and the instinctive bnt 
futile efforts to rise briskly to attention npon the 
entrance of a superior officer were instances in 
point. His performance was full of patriotic 
and sympathetic appeal, and ended with a most 
thrilling effect. The old man, who, unnoticed, 
had fallen into a doze, began dreaming of his 
Waterloo exploit. After a few uneasy motions, 
he sprang erect and soldierlike to his feet, with 
the passionate cry, **The guards want powder, 
and, by God, they shall have it!** and then fell 
back dead. The power which Mr. Irving put 
into this climax was electric. 

Some mention must be made of ' ' Robespierre, * ' 
which Sardou, in his later days, made for Henry 
Irving. As an illustration of a period it was 
superior to * * Thermidor, * * ^ ' Madame Sans Gene, * * 
** Theodora, * * *' Cleopatra, " ^'Gismonda,** and 
other tailor-made Dieces to which the illustrious 

309 



3 



Sryi T TEARS OF THE TftRA'Unt " 
Frenebman devoted his learning and ingenaitr 
for oommeroial pnrposes, bat its valne vaa almoat 
pnrelj theatrioaL His selection of Bobeq^erre 
as a possible vehicle for Irving was oharaoteris- 
tioally astnte. A character oompoimded of fba 
most oontradiotor^ moral and intelleotnal ottri- 
bntes, a man who was at onoe timid and anda- 
dons, bloodthirsty and philanthropic, tendw- 
hearted and remorseless, a lofty patriot and nn- 
sempnlons tyrant, a patron of the arta and a 
d«nagogio politician, a poet of sentiment and 
purveyor-general to the guillotine, was snsoepti- 
ble of dramatic development in any direction and 
adaptable to almost any conceivable dramatic 
situation. So he boldly made him the hero of 
an early love romance and endowed him with a 
vast latent fund of paternal affection. This was 
to impart to him the human interest in which 
he was deficient Then he made hun the domi- 
nant figure in incidents closely akin to those 
in which Irving had won fame in "The Bells," 
"Eugene Aram," "Louis XI.," and kindred 
plays. Irving had only to repeat himself, and 
this he did, with his usual ability and his 
most familiar extravagances. His performance 
was effective, often tbeatricaUy brilliant, but 
it could not in any true sense be called a new 
creation. But the scenic spectacle which he pre- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

sented was snperb and his stage management as 
imimpeacliable as ever. 

Ellen Terry won a personal triumph in 1889 
by her performance of Ellaline, the heroine of 
Alfred C. Calmour's poetic play, **The Amber 
Heart/' This is a dainty, fanciful, allegorical 
little piece, with a minimimi of dramatic sub- 
stance. The story is of a lovely maiden, guarded 
against love by an amulet which she throws away. 
Left defenseless, she is wooed, won, and betrayed, 
whereupon she meditates suicide, but, recovering 
her amulet, is restored to happiness. The charm 
is wholly imaginative, poetical, and sympathetic, 
and would miscarry hopelessly in the hands of 
almost any other actress than Miss Terry. With 
her delicate art she endowed Ellaline with all the 
buoyancy and ingenuous simplicity of the fresh- 
est maidenhood. The slightest hint of affectation 
or dissimulation would have been ruinous. But 
her light-hearted, frank, and guileless girlishness 
was so natural, her manner so sprightly, free, 
and joyous, that it was easy to believe in the 
efficacy of her amulet. Nothing could be prettier 
than her revelation of the dawn of love in her 
breast, or more winning than her impulsive but 
modest surrender to the ardent Silvio. Equally 
natural was her denotement of the silent suffer- 
ing of a proud but gentle heart when she found 
herself neglected and forsaken. 

311 



i 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Her appeal to her refireant lover was most 
moving in its reproachful ness, and the imselfish- 
ness of it was admirably emphasized by the flash 
of womanly pansion provoked by the taunts of her 
SQceessful and ungenerous rival. Few, indeed, 
are the actrosseii of to-day who could hope to 
embody a conception so fanciful — a bit of dream- 
land—with a skill so sympathetic, delicate, deft, 
and sure. 

WeR do I remomber the attitudB of sma^ of 
onr oommereial managen toward Heiir7 Irring 
when he first came to this oonntry. Th^ said 
that he was a noyelty which had been well adver- 
tised; a charlatan whose tricks made him noto- 
rions; a showman whose lavish ezpendltnres 
would soon bring him to ruin. They dianged 
their tune after a season or two, when he con- 
tinned to draw crowded houses, while their own 
theaters were comparatively empty. But they 
never learned to profit by the supreme lesson 
he taught them, which, as I ta^e it, is that the 
theater run most consistently upon artistic prin- 
ciples, is in the end most commercially prosper- 
ous. It is true that in his last years his for- 
tunes, not his reputation^ tomporarily declined 
somewhat, owing to sickness, misfortune, mis- 
calculation, and other causes. Bnt from the 
moment that he first took up the reins of manage- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ment lie increased steadily in artistic fame and 
riches. The secret of his success is an open 
one. He had a rooted faith in the dignity, the 
significance, the artistic universality, and the 
weighty responsibilities of his profession. 

To him the theater was the handmaid of all 
the arts. To him a play, if it was worth doing 
at all, was worth doing in the best possible 
manner. I do not believe that he was greatly 
concerned about the moral or — except from the 
artistic point of view — the educational influence 
of the stage. He was not altogether exempt from 
the egoism which so often warps the judgment 
of the actor-manager, and it would be folly to 
pretend that he was indifferent to the receipts in 
his box-office. Beyond question he was fully alive 
to the attractive powers of sensational incident 
and spectacle. Not all his plays rose to the same 
high level of literary and dramatic excellence. 
His supreme confidence in his own histrionic 
genius not infrequently led him to undertake 
characters, such as Macbeth, Borneo, Othello, and 
Coriolanus, for which he was unfitted, while his 
determination to be first or nowhere prevented 
him from producing plays in which he might 
have been outshone, and from assuming compara- 
tively subordinate parts for which he was preemi- 
nently qualified. 

313 




SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 
He never, for instance, produced "As Yon 
like It," although he often talked of doing so, 
because, as he said, he could not make up his 
mind whether to play Touchstone or Jacques. 
It can scarcely be doubted, in the light of his 
actual accomplishment, that his interpretation of 
either character would have been an tntelleetnal 
treat which would have added infinitely to the 
value of the representation, while it is virtually 
certain that Ellen Terry would have proved the 
ideal Rosalind of this era. 

Many good actors have played Touchstone 
during the last forty or fifty years ; half a dozen, 
perhaps, with genuine intuition; others with in- 
fectious humor, but not one of them is now 
remembered for preeminent success in the part 
It is tolerably safe to say that, within living 
memory, no player has realized fully upon the 
stage the charm which this most delightful of 
Shakespeare's clowns exerts upon the printed 
page. Most of his interpreters, not unwisely, 
have contented themselves with keeping very 
closely to the lines of old theatrical traditions. 
For these Irving, who was seldom imitative, 
probably would have had small reverence. Bight 
or wrong, he would have been guided in his con- 
ception by his own impulses and intellect. The 
mere fact that he meditated the assumption of 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

a subordinate part is virtually proof that he had 
original ideas concerning it. Very likely the 
result might have been strange, beyond all possi* 
bility of doubt it would have been profoundly 
interesting and suggestive. He had the brains, 
the inventiveness, and the authority (a great 
advantage) to give new significance and clar- 
ity to obscure or difficult phrases, and the 
artistry (inasmuch as the part lay wholly 
within his physical resources) to insure a com- 
pletely harmonious study. Moreover, his im- 
I>ersonation would have been charged with all 
the dynamics of his own extraordinary person- 
ality. In Jacques, he would have found a superb 
opportunity for the display of his ironic humor, 
but for little else. In Touchstone, he might have 
been facile primus. In any case, if he failed, he 
would have failed brilliantly. 

For the remaining parts his company would 
have supplied an insuperable cast, and it is tan- 
talizing to think of the scenic loveliness and the 
romantic glamor with which his managerial skill 
and sure artistic instinct would have invested 
that exquisite pastoral comedy. This was one of 
his lost opportunities, and it was one that Phelps 
would never have missed. Irving, be it noted, 
never labored under the delusion that a leading 
actor rose in popular estimation by virtue of his 

315 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
manifest superiority over incompetent associates, 
or that a good play was always its own sufficient 
vindication in the theater. He had his failures, 
but none of them was on account of indifferent 
representation. His stock company, collected 
with care and kept together by liberal treatment 
and constant employment, was for many years 
the best in existence and was reinforced by the 
best available material as occasion required. 

For his scenery he employed artists of renown, 
and, to insure the proper atmosphere and accu- 
racy in detail, he summoned to their aid eminent 
experts in costume, architecture, and archeology. 
For his modem plays he went, for the most part, 
not to hacks, but to authors of established lit- 
erary repute. Tn rehearsals he was incessant and 
indefatigable. "Well served, he was in all things 
director in chief, a fact that accounts for the 
unity in purpose and design that distinguished 
all his representations and speaks volumes for 
his individual capacity. He owed much, doubt- 
less, to the long and arduous apprenticeship 
which he served in various stock companies be- 
fore he got his foot on the first rung of the 
ladder, but more to his own indomitable ambition 
and energy. He was among the great ones of 
mankind. Kot a scholar or student, he had an 
intellectnal keenness and avidity that enabled 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

him to absorb and assimilate all sorts of useful 
learning from his experience and the eminent 
men in all walks of life, whose intimacy he cul- 
tivated assiduously, and who were proud to ac- 
knowledge him as their friend. The strange 
charm of his manner, his knowledge of the world, 
his shrewd and caustic comment, his prodigal 
liberality as a host, and his self-respect and dis- 
cretion won for him a social position to which 
few actors before him had attained. This, per- 
haps, was not the least of his many serviqes to 
his profession. Half a dozen men of his stamp 
would do more to renovate the theater than all 
the dilettante committees that can be organized. 
Almost an ideal manager, he showed how to ele- 
vate the theater and at the same time make it pay 
by treating it seriously. He died too soon and 
left no successor behind him. 



317 



233: 



BICHABD MANSFIELD 

Or a very different t^pe from Henry Irnnf 
vsB Biehard Mansfield, and yet there were aomfl 
striking similarities between the two men. Both 
had strong individnalitiee, boming ambition, in- 
tense egotism, and high artistio instinot In botit 
the creative or interpretative faculty was ham- 
pered and limited by the ingrained habits of an 
inexorable personality. Both believed themselves 
equal to the loftiest flights of tragic emotion, ig< 
noring the limitations of which, perhaps, they were 
unconscious, and both underrated the exceptional 
abilities with which they were endowed. Irving, 
of course, was the greater actor, the finer char- 
acter, and the more nimble and apprehensive in- 
tellect of the two. In the hard school of experi- 
ence he acquired a wisdom, an adaptability, and 
a self-control which Mansfield never learned. To 
the last the latter was imperious, wilful, self -cen- 
tered, and indocile. He was a terror to his 



Concerning the brilliancy of his natural talents 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

there can be no dispute. He inherited a large 
share of them from his mother, Madame Bnders- 
dorf, one of the greatest dramatic singers of her 
day, and a most capable and headstrong woman. 
He was musical, sang beautifully, painted with 
skill, and was a good linguist. I would not hesi- 
tate to accredit him with genius were it not for 
the indefiniteness of a word so profligately nois- 
nsed. Genius, in the sense of an imcommon de- 
yelopment of the mimetic and artistic faculties, 
he undoubtedly had, but not in any superlative 
degree. His manner, on the stage and off, was 
apt to be stiff, precise, and angular, but, never- 
theless there was about his presence a certain 
forcefulness — ^a suggestion of latent power — that 
concentrated attention and excited interest. His 
voice was deep, resonant, and musical — few ac- 
tors have been gifted with a finer organ — ^but he 
never learned to take full advantage of it, adopt- 
ing a falling inflection ending upon the same note 
at every period, which soon wearied the ear, and 
was especially fatal in the delivery of blank 
verse. 

I have referred briefly to the remarkable per- 
formance of the Baron Chevrial in **A Parisian 
Romance,'' in the Union Square Theater, which 
first brought him prominently into public notice. 
Hitherto he had been identified chiefly with light 

319 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER ^ 

dramatic pieces and comic opera — he won praise 
as Sir Joseph Porter in "H, M. S. Pinafore" — 
and this realistic exhibition of depravity in dot- 
age, by a young and comparatively unknown 
actor, was a surprise to the public, the managers, 
and the critics, and soon became a town topic. 
It was an extraordinarily clever bit of work, and 
deserved nearly all the praise that it received. 
The assumption of senility, aping yonth, an an- 
cient satyr with a veneer of superfine polish, of 
a Inst lassata necdum satiata, was almost as fas- 
cinating as it was horrible. And the picture of 
the death stroke, paralyzing an infamous hilarity, 
was vivid and startling in the extreme. It was 
a wonderful piece of mimicry, but it was not a 
great performance, because no great power of 
emotion or imagination was involved. It eonld 
not be compared for a moment with the effect 
wrought by such actors as Edwin Booth, E. L. 
Davenport, or Samuel Phelps in the collapse of 
Sir Giles Overreach. But it saved a poor play 
from disaster, and made the actor, who had been 
so prompt in seizing his opportunity, famous. 

The part was prominent in his repertory for 
many years, but in expanding and over-elaborat- 
ing it he spoiled his own performance. He had, 
however, established his reputation as an inter- 
preter of eccentric character, and it was for his 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

proficiency in this line that he will be longest 
remembered. When Steele Mackaye produced 
his * * In Spite of All ' ^ — a variation upon Sardon 's 
** Andrea'^ — Mansfield furnished a most telling 
sketch of a theatrical manager of German extrac- 
tion. It was a veritable characterization, in 
which all the details of speech, appearance, and 
manner were nicely appropriate, and he main- 
tained the illusion most successfully, until the 
action of the scene called for a manifestation of 
emotional pathos, when he broke down, his acting 
being devoid of all sincerity. 

Soon afterward he appeared as the hero of 
** Prince Karl,'^ written for him by A. C. Gunter. 
The piece itself was unmitigated rubbish. It was 
all about a Prince who, having proposed mar- 
riage to one woman, makes love to another, whom 
he has discovered to be richer, in the guise of his 
own courier. In it Mr. Mansfield won much 
popularity. He played the Prince in the light 
vein of eccentric comedy in which he excelled, 
and was particularly happy in his broken English, 
in his snatches of song, and his adoption of a 
foreign manner. But here again he was least 
satisfactory in his interpretation of passages 
of romantic sentiment, demanding some measure 
of emotional sincerity. Even in these early days 
it was apparent to experienced observers that 

321 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER ^ 
the fervor of romantic ardor and the poignancy 
of true pathos were beyond hia means of expres- 
sion. 

Mansfield advanced stUl further in public favor 
in a melodramatic version of the "Dr. Jekyll 
and Mr. Hyde" of Robert Louis Stevenson. The 
play reproduced some of the leading incidents of 
the atory and some of the text, but very little of 
ita spirit, significance, and power. As for the 
performance of Mr. Mansfield of the double per- 
sonality, that was full of melodramatic effect and 
theatrical strobes, but showed very little sym- 
pathetic imagination. It was in the externals 
that gratify the crowd, not in the clairvoyance 
of a perfect intelligence, that it excelled. Jekyll 
he represented as a young, sallow, melancholy 
student, with cleanly shaven face, very dark and 
heavy eyebrows, and long, black hair. Far from 
being the jovial, debonair man of the world, he 
was haunted by the terrors of his position, a 
sort of Hamlet in a frock coat. Hyde he made a 
nightmare of goblin hideonsness, a white, leer- 
ing vampire, with a ferocious mouth and glazing 
eyes, deformed, lame, palsied, and infirm. A 
loathsome object, certainly, and, to a certiun ex- 
tent, like a medieval demon, suggestive of evil, 
but not half so appalling or infernal as the shriv- 
elled Hyde of the original, with his horrible 
322 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

lightness, activity, and energy, impressing the 
observer with a sense of a deformity which did 
not actually exist. The subtleties of this crea- 
tion eluded Mansfield completely. For an imag- 
inative symbolism — ^in which Irving, who once 
meditated playing the character, would have 
revelled — ^he could only substitute something 
grossly palpable and material. He utterly failed 
to denote that one character was supplemental 
to the other. Essentially the difference between 
his two men was physical. 

The moroseness and gloom of Jekyll had much 
in common with the sullen ferocity of Hyde. By 
making Jekyll buoyant and convivial, as he is 
expressly described in the book, he would have 
prepared a much finer and more artistic dramatic 
contrast. That he showed much acting power in 
illustrating his grotesque idea of Hyde, I fully 
acknowledge, but it was not of an inspired kind. 
J. B. Studley, and others of the old Bowery melo- 
dramatic days, could have done as much. He was 
at his best in his scene with Dr. Lanyon, where, 
after getting the drugs, Hyde taunts him with 
his incredulity and curiosity At this juncture 
there was a dash of the demoniacal in his voice 
and gesture, but the double impersonation, as a 
whole, evinced no astonishing amount of intui- 
tion, or genuine versatility, and was wholly un- 

323 



SIXTY YEABS OF THE THEATER 



1 



■worthy of the rhapsodical encomiums lavished 
upon it. Some of the critics seem to have ac- 
cepted the commonest of theatrical tricks as 
unprecedented miracles. 

Throughout his career Mansfield suffered 
greatly at the haada of his devoted woj»hipez8> 
He was bepraifled 'with an eostatioal oratoiy &at 
would have been fulsome if Oaniok, Salvjni, w 
Booth had been the snbjeot of it Aa a natural 
ooDseqnenoe he was snbjeoted to tumeoessary and 
orael oomparisons, and often measured by stand- 
ards wholly disproportionate to his inches. For 
him, aa for Charles Kean, the only true form of 
criticism was adolation, and this betrayed him 
into some lamentable mistakes. His "Bichard 
in," first produced in London and Boston, was 
hailed as one of the most splendid achieve- 
ments of modem managerial art and a presenta- 
tion instinct with the Sluikespearean spirit It is 
only fair to say at once that the scenic prodac- 
tion was a very fine one — not better than many 
of Irving's, not so good as some — but wholly ad- 
mirable in its excellent painting, its rich and 
accurate dressing, its well-drilled supernumer- 
aries and its solid architecture. 

Aa for the Shakespearean spirit, it was virtu- 
ally the old Oibberian compound. It began with 
tiie nmrder of H^iry VI, and omitted the wlmle 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Clarence episode and the scenes in wHch Queen 
Elizabeth, Qneen Margaret, and Rivers are con- 
cerned. It omitted the first, third, and fourth 
scenes of the second act and a great part of the 
fourth act The later acts were cut with equal 
freedom, scenes were transposed, and the spuri- 
ous text was employed much as usual. There 
was nothing very heinous in all this, nothing 
for which there was not abundant precedent, but 
the misrepresentations extensively circulated in 
relation to it were unnecessary, dishonest, and 
absurdly foolish. Poor Mansfield was not re- 
sponsible, of course, for much of the blatant non- 
sense published about him by his press agents 
and correspondents of the penny-a-liner breed. 
He may have winced a little if he ever read the 
assertion that his Richard was the best since 
the days of Edmund Kean — and that with Edwin 
Booth still in the field. 

Actually his Richard was a forcible-feeble 
affair, a cheap, conventional portrait set in a 
magnificent frame. He may justly be held re- 
sponsible for his contemptuous disregard of his 
own prompt book. In a preface to this he de- 
clared that inasmuch as Shakespeare had libelled 
Richard unscrupulously and exaggerated his de- 
formity as he had his crimes, he had determined 
to treat that deformity lightly. Nevertheless, he 

325 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
wore a hump like a camel, and tottered and 
limped in a manner totally inconsistent with the 
strength and agility of which the usurper is known 
to have been possessed. With similar irrelevance, 
after describing Gloster's face as "mournful 
almost to pathos," he presented him as a hang- 
dog looking, beetle-browed fellow, whose face 
suggested nothing but a dull malignity. Of the 
devilish alertness, keen intelligence, courtly habit, 
native authority, all vital elements of the char- 
acter, he intimated nothing. His hypocrisy was 
not so much a veil for his thoughts as a medium 
for their revelation. Preeminently, the dominant 
feature of his performance was a labored theatri- 
calism, unenlightened by divination. His en- 
trance into King Henry's chamber in the tower, 
bis studied paiise upon the threshold, his warm- 
ing of his hands at the fire, the careful arrange- 
ment of his pose against the wall at the head 
of the King's bed, his deliberate drawing of his 
sword, and the testing of the tip exhibited a cal- 
culated mechanism in which there was no quiver 
of life or emotion. He passed his sword through 
the body of his victim with the nonchalance of a 
poulterer skewering a fowl, and wiped his sword 
upon the curtain with the same passionless indif- 
ference. His intent, doubtless, was to signify 
remorseless resolution and unshakable nerve, but 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

he faUed utterly to suggest the energy of the 
direful will below the icy surface. It was clever 
pantomime, but purely melodramatic, not tragic. 
All was mere action without informing soul. 

A similar straining after theatrical effect was 
noticeable when he spoke his opening soliloquy in 
the second act squatting like a toad upon a stone 
by the wayside. The attitude was inappropriate 
and undignified, and the delivery without signifi- 
cance or variety. In the wooing of the Lady 
Anne he was more satisfactory, audacity and cyni- 
cism being deftly blended with an air of affected 
sincerity. But the soliloquy, **Was ever woman, '^ 
etc., was a direct harangue to the audience, 
shouted out in varying degrees of loudness, with- 
out light or shade, a wretchedly bald and unim- 
aginative recitation, without a trace of the tri- 
umphant mockery and satanic exultation with 
which Edwin Booth used to fill it. 

His denunciation of Hastings was noisy and 
overwrought, and in the encounter of wits with 
the little Duke of York he betrayed his discom- 
fiture in starts and scowls which ill became so 
accomplished a hypocrite, while in the scene with 
the Lord Mayor, and of the offer of the crown, 
he indulged in extravagances which won some 
cheap applause, indeed, but came perilously close 
to burlesque. It is needless to multiply instances 

327 



SIXTV YEARS OF THE THEATER ^ 
of this kind — they were cootinuous in the per- 
formance. But one device was too illustrative 
of the spirit of the performance to be dis- 
regarded. As Biehard assumed his throne a ray 
of red light was thrown upon his hand. This 
presently became green, as if to show the King 
in a new complexion. It was upon such tricks 
as these that Mr. Mansfield put his main de- 
pendence. The impersonation, considered as the 
work of an ambitious and unqualified novice, wafl 
not without its compensating merits, but a.s a 
study of Shakespearean character it was hope- 
lessly commonplace. In later years it improvod 
somewhat, but not much. It never rose above 
the level of the second rate. 

From Shakespeare Mr. Mansfield planged 
lioldly downward to Simms and Pettit. Words 
would be wasted even in the briefest description 
of such miserable trash as "Master and Man." 
In it he depicted a villainous hunchback, whose 
accumulated crimes against innocent virtue finally 
prompted his neighbors to bake him in the fur- 
nace of a foundry. This bit of the grotesque he 
enacted with vividness and enthusiasm, employ- 
ing some of the most lurid effects of his Hyde 
and Richard and adding others. In the furnace 
scene his portrayal of abject, shrieking, convul- 
sive terror was exceedingly well done, with an 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

amazing display of physical vigor. But, of course, 
such a part did not require any uncommon 
ability. 

He next appeared in a character which afforded 
him a much better opportunity for artistic work, 
Beau Brummell, which proved one of his most 
popular impersonations. The play was the in- 
vention of the ingenious and prolific Clyde Fitch 
and was a poor affair. Anxious to fit Mr. Mans- 
field with a neat dramatic suit, he endowed the 
Beau with generosity, deep emotions, heroic capa- 
city for self-sacrifice, and other virtues com- 
pletely foreign to his nature, thus making the 
shallow, foppish, selfish side of him wholly in- 
comprehensible. Brummell really was a worthless 
creature, a sort of confidence man of a refined 
type, with a superficial gloss of elegant manner — 
the polish, as it were, upon the brass which was 
tis principal constituent. In this piece he is an 
altruist who sacrifices love and fortune for the 
sake of a favorite nephew and retires to digni- 
fied exile, solitude, and starvation. This version, 
however, provides for the one original, imagin- 
ative, and effective scene in the play, in which 
the starving exquisite, dreaming of his former 
state, dines luxuriously off phantom dishes, while 
entertaining old companions conjured up by his 
delirium. 

329 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

In this closing episode, well suited to his ironio 
humor and miinetic skill, Mansfield played with 
admirable delicacy, humor, and feeling, but be 
was not so entirely successful as might have been 
expected in the more characteristie Brummellian 
scene of the opening act. The invincible stiflFness 
and angularity of his manner, to which I have 
alluded previously, militated against his perfect 
assumption of the graceful, if formal, elegance 
which distinguished the fop of the period, when 
people stood in the streets to .see the "First 
Gentleman in Europe*' take off his hat. Spon- 
taneity and suppleness of action he never conld 
acquire. The graces of gesture and diction, al- 
thongh his voice was singularly powerful and 
melodious, always eluded him. But the air irf 
indolent indifference, importurbablp oomposure, 
languid boredom, and quiet insolence he caught 
without difficulty, and his execution was admir- 
able in its deliberation, smoothness, and finish. 
The impudent speeches so often quoted as witty 
(every available anecdote historical or apocry- 
phal, is embalmed in the play) he spoke very 
neatly. It was a clever performance, with a 
great deal more of Mr. Mansfield in it than of 
Beau Bmmmell, and this fact, probably, contrib- 
uted not a little to its prolonged popularity. 

It is scarcely worth while to dwell upon his ap- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

pearance in ^^Don Juan,'* an amateurish piece, 
crude in matter and form, which he wrote for 
himself. It probably represented his own esti- 
mate of his dramatic aptitudes and was a curious 
instance of self-deception. In the eariier acts, 
mainly farcical, the Don was exhibited in a va- 
riety of his youthful escapades. The last act, 
melodramatic, showed him in prison, wounded and 
dying, but still invincible. The first scenes needed 
lightness, fervor, gayety, and grace, in all of 
which he was deficient, while the last acts were 
of a quality which the best of acting could not 
have redeemed. Nor was he much more fortun- 
ate when he undertook to embody the Eev. 
Arthur Dimmesdale in a not very brilliant adap- 
tation which Joseph Hatton had made out of 
''The Scarlet Letter.'^ His impersonation was 
devoid of almost every attribute ascribed to the 
original by his creator. 

Instead of being fragile, spiritual, intellectual, 
eloquent, emotional, hectic, and interesting, he 
was stolid, sneaking, animal, and Dutch. To the 
eye he was heavy and dyspeptic; to the ear a 
droning monotone. His delivery was one ever- 
lasting preachment. After these experiments, 
with characteristic audacity, he ventured to chal- 
lenge comparison with Edwin Booth by appear- 
ing as Shylock. The attempt was attended by a 

331 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER ^ 
considerable measure of success. He monnted 
the comedy tastefully, and gave it a fairly good 
cast. In the Jew he found a part which, accord- 
ing to his reading of it, lay largely within his 
histrionic boundaries. His imperaonation was 
full of crudities, Tiolence, and inconsistencies, 
but it gave a promise, never fulfilled, of better 
things thereafter. It made no pretense of racial 
or personal dignity, but, except in the second act, 
was conceived along the lines of low canning 
and malevolence, to which he gave vital expres- 
sion. Some of his bursts of passion, although 
more vociferous than eloquent, were, neverthe- 
less, effective, and much of hia byplay was full 
of meaning. His farewell to Jessica was an ex- 
cellent piece of acting — well imagined and 
wrought — but it was out of harmony with much 
that had gone before and came after. At no 
point did the performance show more than or- 
dinary intelligence or any sign of inspiration. 
Some of the laudations lavished upon it have 
long been a source to me of utter bewilderment. 
Mansfield was in his own proper province 
when, abandoning the poetic drama, he appeared 
as the hero of Bernard Shaw's sparkllog ex- 
travaganza "Arms and the Man." Of this he 
grasped the hnmor intuitively, acting with a 
simple sincerity too often missing in his more 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ambitious work. He succeeded in identifying 
himself with the mercenary soldier, devoid of 
enthusiasm, patriotism, heroism, or any other 
positive quality, except self-interest and an in- 
voluntary habitual truthfulness, often as discon- 
certing to himself as to others. His stolid im- 
perturbability, his deliberate speech, and quizzi- 
cal manner were capital, and his whole imper- 
sonation, in its humor and finish, did more to 
justify his reputation than anything he had of- 
fered to the public for a long time. His Napo- 
leon, in a disconnected episodical panorama put 
together by Lorimer Stoddard, was a clever bit 
of mimicry without much dramatic significance 
of any kind. Admirably made up he imperson- 
ated the Emperor in triumph at Tilsit, in de- 
jection after the Russian campaign, at Elba, on 
the ev6 of Waterloo, and dying at St. Helena. 

The views he gave were wholly conventional, 
but he suggested, skilfully enough, some of the 
leading traits of the great Corsican, his swift 
comprehension, prompt decision, rapidity in ac- 
tion, and superb self-reliance. But no real study 
of the character was involved in this exhibition. 
* * The King of Peru, ' * by Louis Napoleon Parker, 
which he produced in 1895, deserved a larger 
amount of public attention than it received. It 
was a very clever pseudo-historical social sa- 




8IXT7 YEARS OF THE THEATER 

tire^ idfh an interestixig story and a wholesome 
moral. The idea of it was borrowed from the 
''Bois en Exil'' of Dandet Mansfield had the 
part of a royal pretender who held his mimie 
court in a lodging-honse in Soho. The adveor 
tnrers about him induced him to marry a ridi 
heiresSy who adored him, with the view of get- 
ting her money and nullifying the marriage 
should the exUe ever become King. Atter the 
money has been spent the hero realiases the mean- 
ness of the plot in which he has been involved, 
abjures all royal pretensions, and resolves to 
support his wife by working honestly for a liv- 
ing. The play was a good one from every point 
of view and the selection of it did credit to Mans- 
field's discernment and artistic taste. In many, 
ways the leading character was peculiarly well 
suited to his temperament and capacities, and in 
the later acts he played it with skill and thor- 
ough comprehension. In the scene of his abase- 
ment he displayed both passion and pathos, and 
in his final renunciation he was manly, dignified, 
and tender. If the rest of his performance had 
been equally good, he might have achieved a 
genuine triumph, but in the opening scenes his 
stilted pomposity fell little short of the ridic- 
ulous. Few actors could be more interesting and 
attractive than he when at his best, still fewer 
more exasperating when he was at his worst. 

334 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Not long afterward he won an artistic, if not 
popular, success in **Eodion the Student,'' an 
adaptation by C. H. Meltzer from the ** Crime 
and Punishment*' of Dostoievsky. The opening 
acts were ordinary melodrama, but the last three, 
showing the remorse of the murderer, his dread 
of self-betrayal, the horrible fascination that 
ever drew him to the place of his crime, and his 
final collapse, were of far superior quality. It 
was in these later introspective scenes that Mans- 
field did his best work. Up to the murder his 
acting was forced, rigid, and mechanical, but his 
portrayal of the tortures of a guilty conscience 
working upon a nervous system, already wrought 
to the verge of madness, was exceedingly vivid, 
"and in one scene of frenzied delirium, in which 
he reenacted the murder in dumb show, grappling 
in imagination with the shade of his victim, he 
stirred the spectators to a high pitch of enthusi- 
asm. The simulation of extreme terror is not 
m itself difficult, but at this juncture the act- 
ing of Mr. Mansfield evinced imagination as well 
as executive power. His next essay was in an 
old-fashioned melodrama called ^* Castle Som- 
bras," which may be left to oblivion. In it he 
played a gloomy hero, of the Byronic type, with 
indifferent success. Nor need I linger over **The 
First Violin," a pretty little romantic play in 

335 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

which he was much more happily placed. It 
was remotely akin, in general character, to 
** Prince Karl,'' and the part of the hero lay 
well within the scope of his varied abilities, and 
was not in direct conflict with his personal man- 
nerisms. In it he was long and deservedly suc- 
cessful. 

It was in 1898 that Mansfield, with character- 
istic boldness and artistic ambition, effected one 
of his most notable representations, that of Ed- 
mond Rostand's brilliant romantic and literary 
fantasy, ** Cyrano de Bergerac," in the English 
version of Howard Thayer Kingsbury. His in- 
dividual performance, taking it for all in all, 
was one of his most memorable achievements. I 
do not propose to attempt here any synopsis or 
review of a play that has been so frequently 
described and discussed, but wish to record my 
personal conviction that the part of Cyrano as 
conceived by its creator has never been fully em- 
bodied in this country, not even by Coquelin, for 
whom it was originally designed. It is one of 
extraordinary difficulty, because of the blend in 
it of the ideally romantic and the visibly gro- 
tesque. 

The problem before the actor is to make the 
facial malformity of the man sufficiently prom- 
inent to account for its consequences, and, at the 

336 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

same time, to bring into full relief the precious 
jewels of character contained in that unpromis- 
ing casket. I think that Mansfield, out of over- 
conscientiousness, perhaps, made a great mis- 
take and subjected himself to an unnecessary- 
handicap in wearing a snout like that of a tapir, 
long, flexible, hideous, possibly comic, but in- 
human, which dwarfed not only every other fea- 
ture, but the head and countenance, virtually 
annihilating all power of facial expression. This 
was an especially serious deprivation to an actor 
so weak in oratorical expedient. At first Mans- 
field trusted too much to his comic vein, his be- 
havior and carriage scarcely justifying the 
prompt acquiescence of so distinguished an as- 
semblage in the authority of his self -constituted 
censorship. His faulty elocution prevented him 
from doing much with the ballade, punctuated by 
his rapier thrusts. 

In the bakery scene with Eoxane, when he 
mistakes the confession of her love for Christian 
for an avowal to himself, his sudden change 
from an attitude of ecstatic anticipation to one 
of bitter but sternly repressed disappointment 
was admirable acting. In his explosive outbursts 
of rage at the insults of the incomprehensive 
Christian, there were flashes of the right fire. 
He came near to genuine eloquence in the bal- 

337 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
cony episode, where he pleads the cause of his 
rival, but his treatment of the foUowing passage, 
where he delays the amorous Duke in the conrt- 
yard, savored of burlesque. Id the camp and 
battle scenes of the fourth act he bore himself 
with soldierly gallantry, but it was in the final 
act, where the dying Cyrano, loyally concealing 
his own hurt, betrays his secret to Roxane by 
his fervid recitation of the letter which he is 
supposed never to have seen, that he seemed sud- 
denly to seize the soul of the character, acting 
with a fervor, simplicity, and unaffected manli- 
ness which touched the heart and qaickened the 
pulse. Rarely had he created so fine an effect. 
His death, too, on his feet, hurling a last de- 
fiance against the foes he had always fought, 
was a worthy realization of the brilliant fancy of 
the poet. The whole impersonation was one to 
which a sincere tribute of hearty praise may be 
gladly given. 

Two years later, Mr. Mansfield put Shake- 
speare's *'Henry V" upon the stage with a scenic 
completeness and splendor worthy of Irving him- 
self. The throne room at Westminster, with its 
matchless roof; the quay at Southampton; the 
intrenehments at Harfleur; the English lines at 
Agincourt, and the Cathedral at Troyes were 
pictures that have seldom been surpassed upon 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

the stage. The supporting cast was of level and 
respectable capacity. All the accessories re- 
flected credit upon his managerial liberality and 
his artistic taste. But, unfortunately, the driv- 
ing force needed to give animation and dramatic 
vitality to all the elaborate preparation was 
wanting. Henry V is the ultimate development 
of the graceless, reckless, chivalrous, and fascin- 
ating Prince Hal of ** Henry IV'* at once sobered 
and inspired by responsibility. For such a part, 
which demands a combination of distinct and rare 
faculties — the lightness and eloquence of high 
comedy and the virility and fire of heroic romance 
— Mr. Mansfield was in many ways unequipped. 
His presentment was gallant and attractive in 
form, but heavy in manner and uninspired 
in spirit. It was deficient in grace of movement 
and gesture, in unconscious dignity, in geniality, 
in buoyancy, in eloquence, and spontaneous sol- 
dierly ardor. From first to last it labored be- 
neath the actor's inveterate egoism and the fatal 
mannerisms — rigid, spasmodic gesture, stiff, 
jerky walk, and monotonous utterance — ^which 
marred so much of his most ambitious work. 

During his mid-career he mastered most of the 
mechanical difficulties of his art, and greatly de- 
veloped his powers of voicing the baser forms of 
passion. Thus in melodrama he was often ex- 

339 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATERl 

ceedingly impressive. The loftier heights of 
tragic emotion he could not scale. That he bad 
imagination was sufficiently proven by the range 
and variety of the characters he assumed, hut 
he could only \italize such ideals as could be 
expressed in the terms of his individual self. 
, He was not really a versatile player except in 
the realm of eccentric comedy, where the mimetic 
faculty, which was strong in him, had full scope. 
Had he worked steadily along this line, he might 
have created masterpieces which would have won 
a permanent pla<'e in theatrical history. As it 
is, I can not recall a single character, of any 
importance, that is now associated with his name. 
His personality only will endure in the memory 
of his contemporaries. 



xxn 

AUGUSTIN DALY'S COMPANY 

The fifteen years between 1885 and 1900 saw 
Daly's Theater in the height of its prosperity 
and in the beginning of its decadence. In an 
earlier chapter I wrote briefly concerning Au- 
gustin Daly as a manager, and there is not much 
to be added except in the way of confirmation. 
His actual achievement has been vastly over- 
rated. There is very little solid foundation for 
the common belief that his contributions to the 
revival, or survival, of the literary and poetic 
drama were of any great or lasting value. It is 
true that he was a man of artistic tastes and 
impulses, and a most liberal, enterprising, and 
courageous manager, who could be daunted by 
no disaster, but was always ready with a fresh 
experiment. It is true that he had for many 
years the best light-comedy company in the 
country and that he was the author of many de- 
lightful entertainments, prepared and served in 
irreproachable fashion. But these, in the main, 

341 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER ■ 
were of an entirely ephemeral and unimportant 
kind. 

In some of his more ambitions undertakings, 
his sense of artistic propriety did not prevent 
him from resorting to some of the most mis- 
cliievous practises of the purely commercial and 
speculative managers. He did not hesitate, for 
instance, to sacrifice artistic principle for the 
sake of "booming" a popular actress, to put 
on plays for whose proper interpretation his 
players were unqualified, to mangle the text in 
order to minimize their incompetency, or to offer 
attractive spectacle as a substitute for good act- 
ing. Some of the pieces that he produced were 
unmitigated trash, flagrant melodramatic absurd- 
ities, with no other possible object than to catch 
the mob. I have already alluded to the fact 
that, on some occasions, even his scenery was 
flashy rather than artistically appropriate and 
meritorious. On the whole, however, he shone 
in contrast with most of his contemporaries, and 
to this fact, probably, may be attributed a con- 
siderable proportion of the critical complaisance 
which he enjoyed. Thus much in the interest of 
truth and common sense, but I am indebted to 
him for too many agreeable and not unprofitable 
evenings to wish to linger npon this phase of Ms 
career. 

342 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

At the period of which I am writing his prin- 
cipal players — at one time or another — included 
Ada Behan (whose death has been so recent), 
John Drew, Otis Skinner, Effie Shannon, Arthur 
Bourchier, and Frank Worthing (also recently 
dead) — all of whom were to be ** stars'* in the 
near future — and Mrs. Gilbert, James Lewis, 
Charles Fisher, William Davidge, George Clarke, 
Harry Edwards, and Charles Wheatleigh, of an 
older generation. 

The list speaks for itself. No such aggrega- 
tion of competent performers in light contempo- 
rary comedy has been in existence since. Their 
cooperation in the long succession of comedies 
provided for them, mostly from foreign sources, 
by Mr. Daly was admirable in smoothness, rapid- 
ity, and sustained spirit. All these pieces, though 
varying in incident and plot, carried a strong 
family resemblance, and present review of them 
would be tedious. Among them may be men- 
tioned **A Night Oflf,*' Pinero's **The Magis- 
trate,*' ** Nancy & Company,'* **Love in Har- 
ness," **The Bailroad of Love," **The Lottery 
of Love," ** Dandy Dick," **The Golden Widow," 
**The Last Word," ** Little Miss MilUon," *'Love 
on Crutches," and **The Countess Gucki." 

In all of these, and others of less note, Ada 
Behan, John Drew, James Lewis, and Mrs. Gil- 

343 



SIXTi YEARS OP THE THEATER 

bert were the protagonists. Miss Behan, : 
the first, Tvas iu her element in every variel 
piquant, tender, misehievous, high-spirited, i 
luring, whimsical, and provocative girlhood. I^ 
humor was infectious, her charm potent, hai 
pertness delicious, her petulance pretty, and htt ' 
flashes of ire or scorn brilliant. She improved ' 
rapidly in artistry, and to the intuition of a>> 
clever novice she quickly added the skill of ths j 
trained comedian. John Drew, a tyro when be I 
first joined Daly, soon became one of the best.J 
of leading juveniles, in any sort of part tlut'^ 
did not involve serious sentiment or deep fod- 
ing. Humor of a distinctive quality — cynical, 
satirical, or genial — especially effective iu situ- 
ations of serio-comic perplexity, he had inher- 
ited from liis parents, and he gradually acquired 
a notable refinement of style, with uncommon • 
neatness of execution and capacity of repose. 
In this heyday of Daly's he promised to grow 
into one of the most accomplished comedians 
of his era, but his long apprenticeship in one line 
of work was to prove a bar to his further prog- 
ress. As a modern man of the world — the pol- 
ished clubman, the wise mentor, the social diplo- 
matist, the polite wooer — he excelled all com- 
petitors, but when be tried to pass beyond the 
boundaries of the drawing-room into the outer 



A 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

regions of poetic romance and the profonnder 
hnman emotions, his equipment was insufficient 
and his habits so set and petrified by habit as 
to be no longer susceptible of growth. Inspira- 
tion, long confined, would not respond to the 
call of intelligence. 

Mr. Daly, in 1880, effected a revival of "The 
Merry Wives of Windsor,'' which he had first 
produced fifteen years before. He mounted and 
dressed it sumptuously, but his players, with few 
exceptions, were sadly out of perspective, their 
modem manners contrasting strangely with the 
old costumes and direct and vigorous speech. 
They used to play the warm-blooded farce as if 
it were an anemic social comedy of the present, 
dealing with fashionable foibles and artificial ele- 
gances, instead of a study of human nature in 
an Elizabethan townlet. Shakespeare would have 
been sorely puzzled to recognize in these dandi- 
fied folk the old burgesses of Windsor in their 
lusty sylvan simplicity. Beyond question he 
would have paid a poet's tribute to the loveli- 
ness of Ada Eehan and Virginia Dreher, but he 
never would have suspected that these dazzling 
young beauties, in their silks and laces and spark- 
ling gems, were those noted gossips. Mistress 
Ford and Mistress Page, whom Fat Jack him- 
self, even in a letter of courtship, was compelled 

345 




SIXTT TEARS OF THE THEATER 

to admit were neither beautiful nor young. The 
E[night'8 tasteSi it may be remembered, were not 
of the most fastidious kind. 

The transformation of the husbands was no 
less complete. The fiery^ jealous Ford, in the 
hands of John Drew, was a pretty fellow, an 
exquisite in dress, and a courtier in behavior, 
who, like Bottom's lion, roared like any sucking 
dove. The Page of Mr. Otis Skinner was a swag- 
gering young prig, who might, for all his ap- 
parent years, have been the lover of bis own 
daughter, Sweet Anne. The Falstaff of Charles 
Fisher — ^who now revealed the infirmities of 
age — ^was right in design, but bereft of unction 
and vitality. The Bardolph of Mr. Roberts had 
a red nose and that was all. The Pistol of 
George Parkes, gentlest of bullies, emitted little 
puflfs and snorts, at intervals, with the decrepi- 
tude of an ancient bellows. James Lewis, 
quaintest and most delightful of comedians in 
his line, could do nothing with Slender. Mrs. 
Gilbert, who did nothing really ill, was hope- 
lessly miscast in the part of Mrs. Quickly. The 
only really Shakespearean embodiment was John 
Wood's Nym, which, in its dry eccentricity, was 
a capital little study. The representation did not 
last long. There was no reason why it should. 
Upon its inevitable withdrawal there were the 

346 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

usual lamentations over the degeneracy of the 
public taste. The public was not at fault. It 
exhibited better judgment and greater reverence 
for Shakespeare than the critics, who professed 
to enjoy and admire such a spiritless parody of 
him. 

Mr. Daly approached a Shakespearean success 
much more nearly in 1887, when he produced 
**The Taming of the Shrew,'* with a luxurious 
setting and in something like the original form. 
The piece was simpler sailing for his company 
than **The Merry Wives,'* and the general per- 
formance, in the circumstances, was fairly credit- 
able, though the text, in many instances, presented 
insoluble problems to the speakers. Moreover, 
the play was a comparative novelty to the New 
York public, and as such was cordially accepted. 
As Katharine, Ada Behan won a personal tri- 
umph, and the part remained long in her rep- 
ertory. For myself, I must confess that I could 
never fully agree with the panegyrics bestowed- 
upon her performance here and, afterward, in 
England. Undoubtedly, it was a good one — ^in 
some respects even brilliant, but I fancy that 
the personal fascination of the actress — ^which, 
in her prime, was very great — ^had much to do 
with the wide critical acceptance of it. Her 
Shrew was a superb figure, but to my mind she 

347 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

vnlgarized tho character somewliat nnnecessai 

It is true enough that, in the text, Katharine's 
unmanageable temper is described in words 1 
would warrant almost any degree of coarsenai 
and violence, but isomc allowance must be i 
for the bluntness and vigor of Elizabetl 
speech, and it should not be forgotten 
Katharine was the daughter of a mere! 
prince, moved in "upper circles," so to spiea] 
and, presumably, had the training of a gentle-*" 
woman in a period precise in its code of mtMh 
ners. On the whole, it is reasonable to suppose 
tliat she had her normal moments and that it 
was only in her taiitrmns that she became posi- 
tively outrageous. The play itself, although it 
contains .some notable blank verse, is not of very 
much conscqiiciu't', but it would lose nothing in 
humor and gain in plausibility and interest with 
a higher conception of Kathnrine than that of 
a half-crazy virii;;o. She ought to suggest some 
of tho graces of her .station, carry with her a 
certain pei>:onal distinction, and exhibit passion 
in varying degrees. Miss Itehan started her per- 
formance at the highest pitch of quivering indig- 
nation at her command, and thereby secured a 
most picturesque and effective entrance. She 
maintained herself at this level, or near it, with 
amazing energy, but the effort left her withoat 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

any reserve force for dimaxes. Consequently, 
her performance was lacking in light and shade, 
and grew weaker instead of stronger toward the 
end. But it marked an upward step in her 
career. Mr. Drew played Petruchio with a gay 
audacity that met all the absolute requirements 
of the situation, although he was not an authori- 
tative figure. 

Mr. Daly's revival of **A Midsummer Night's 
Dream," in 1888, was chiefly remarkable for its 
beautiful pictures, especially in the woodland 
and fairy scenes, and an excellently painted pan- 
orama showing the passage of Theseus in his 
barge to Athens. A most felicitous use of little 
electric lights was made in the fairy episodes, 
and the management of the elfin troops them- 
selves was eminently imaginative and pictur- 
esque. A more exquisite or delicate setting of 
this lovely poetic fantasy could not reasonably 
be desired, but the performance itself was far 
from satisfactory and calls for no prolonged 
comment. The poetry suffered severely in its 
delivery by unaccustomed lips, and most of the 
impersonations were laboriously feeble. 

Ada Rehan was a charming Helena to the 
eye, but was unimpressive in the serious pas- 
sages, while her reading of the blank verse was 
monotonous. It was not until her quarrel with 

349 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
Hermia that she did herself justice. This she 
made delicious with a dash of her characteristic 
comedy. Otis Skinner imparted a welcome spirit 
to his Lysander. John Drew was not at all at 
ease aa Demetrius, but avoided positive failure. 
James Lewis was exceedingly comical as Bo^ 
torn, and was rewarded with abundant langhter, 
but exhibited no comprehension of the character. 
He was a clever mime striving to make himself 
ridiculous, not a stupid man ridiculous in spite 
of himself. His burlesque tragedy, however, set 
the audience in a roar. In an expurgated ver- 
sion of Farquhar's "The Inconstant," which Mr. 
Daly gave a year later, the chief feature of the 
performance was the Old Mirabel of Charles 
Fisher, which had the true flavor of the original. 
The Oriana of Ada Rehan was entirely modern, 
but earnest, piquant, and womanly. She played 
the mad scene well and made a pretty counter- 
feit of a boy, although her disguise could have de- 
ceived nobody. Mr. Drew was but a pale re- 
flection of the true Mirabel, but played the part 
with a crispness and neatness which were not 
ineffective. 

"As You Like It," which Mr. Daly produced 
in 1889, was among the most satisfactory of his 
representations of Shakespearean comedy. The 
piece made no extraordinary demand upon the 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

histrionic faculties of the company, and sup- 
plied opportunities for pictorial beauty of which 
Mr. Daly availed himself with his habitual lib- 
erality and artistic sentiment. The groups of 
foresters were picturesquely ordered, and the 
sylvan music was entrusted to thoroughly com- 
petent performers. Ada Eehan made a hit as 
Rosalind, a part which for long was one of the 
most popular in her repertory. The more subtle 
romantic elements of the character — ^the poetic 
essence, the delicate sentiment, the graces of in- 
herent nobility — she did not much concern her- 
self about, and her delivery of the text was 
marred by the elocutionary faults which she 
never overcame, but she presented a bewitching 
picture of health and youth animated by a high 
and frolicsome spirit, just a little dashed at 
times by the tender anxieties of love. Her first 
meeting with Orlando was marked by coquetry 
rather than timidity, but was very pretty, na- 
tural, and feminine. Her retort upon the tyrant 
Duke had spirit and dignity, but in this passage 
she was far excelled by Mary Anderson, who 
had the gift of majestic utterance. 

Her doublet and hose became her excellently, 
and she played the scenes with Orlando with a 
pretty affectation of boyish swagger mingled 
with maidenly consciousness. The humor of it 

351 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER ^M 
all was scarcely in the poetic or SUakespearesn 
vein, but her acting was unaffected, lifelike, and 
sympathetic. It was a performance of great 
but not superlative merit. Henrietta Crosnum, 
herself a Rosalind of future distinction, gave 
unwonted animation to Cella. She endowed that 
yonng lady with more liveliness, perhaps, than 
properly belongs to her, but she pleased her 
audience mightily. 

John Drew played Orlando with appropriate 
simplicity, directness, and sincerity — creating' a 
roost favorable impression — and Charles Fisher 
made a noble and pathetic figure as old Adam. 
The Touchstone of James Lewis was delightfclly 
quaint and himiorous, if not preeminently Shake- 
spearean. George Clarke, a thoroughly compe- 
tent actor, played Jacques with a studied natur- 
alism which was not ineffective, but robbed the 
character of some of its intellectual distinction. 
His realism was not assisted by the orchestra, 
which, for some inscrutable reason, was per- 
mitted to play aeeompanimeuts to his soliloquies. 
The Le Beau of Sidney Herbert, the Charles of 
Mr. Bosworth, the Oliver of Eugene Ormond, 
the First Lord of William Hamilton, the Corin 
of Charles Leclercq, and the Silvins of Mr. Bond 
were all commendable. The representation, in 
a word, if never brilliant, was consistently cap- 
able and pleasing. 





'^j^^^ 






Bi 




1i 






*^^a^ 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

for the reckless company he affected, bat he evi- 
dently remembered that Charles, with all his i 
follies, was a decent fellow at bottom, and not 
wholly unworthy of the eulogies of his old friend 
Rowley. His manner was elegant, and be spoke 
his lines without exaggerated emphasis, but with 
a full appreciation of their humor. 

In the screen scene his mirthfulness waa tem- 
pered by the intuitive tactfulness of a well-bred 
man. He exhibited delicate consideration for the 
feelings of the stricken husband and the humili- 
ated woman, while revelling in the discomfiture 
of his hypocritical brother. His whole conduct 
in this scene was an achievement in the first rank 
of artificial comedy. The Joseph Surface of 
George Clarke was another excellent bit of act- 
ing, elegant, suave, and convincingly plausible, 
the real hypocrisy just betraying itself beneath 
the almost unconscious veneer of sham senti- 
ment, la variety and eloquence of fadal expres- 
sion it was uncommonly felicitous. The Mrs. 
Candor of Mrs. Gilbert, the Moses of James 
Lewis, the Backbite of Sidney Herbert, and tie 
Crabtree of Charles Leclercq were all capital. Ada 
Eehan was not the real Lady Teazle, although 
filling the part perfectly to the eye. Her over- 
anxiety about her points betrayed her into many 
inconsistencies and exaggerations. There is no 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

mystery about the character. Lady Teazle was 
a young girl, bred wholly in the country, trying, 
but not quite successfully, to be a fine lady. 
In the opening scene Miss Behan was too much 
of the fine lady, and in others not enough. In 
her quarrel with Sir Peter she adopted the 
methods of low comedy, descending almost to 
the level of Jenny 0* Jones. Her *^ country girl,'* 
was too much in evidence. In the screen scene 
her pretense of yielding to Joseph's wooing was 
so plainly false that it could never have beguiled 
that astute young gentleman into a declaration. 
After the discovery, her profession of penitence 
was made with an elaborate deliberation which 
precluded all confidence in her sincerity, but 
there was genuine snap in her biting retort upon 
the discomfited Joseph. Her Lady Teazle, how- 
ever, can not be counted among her conspicuous 
successes. 

Mr; Daly, doubtless, trusted greatly to the 
ma^e of Tennyson's name when he produced 
the English laureate's woodland play, ^*The 
Foresters," in 1892. It was a chivalrous and 
artistic thing to do. The play itself, of which 
Robin Hood and Maid Marian were the pro- 
tagonists, was a simple compound, almost wholly 
devoid of dramatic interest or consistency, in 
which nursery legend was crudely mixed with 

355 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

melodrama. From the literary point of view, 
of course, it was worthy of all the scenic adorn- 
ment with which Mr, Daly enriched it The 
pure, clear English of the text, the sweet, fresh, 
wholesome patriotic spirit that pervades it, the 
deft imitation of the humor in Shakespeare's 
rural scenes, the varied and insistent music of 
the lines, all afforded an enjoyment rare indeed 
in the contemporary theater. But there was 
nothing dramatic in it and not much that was 
oven theatrical. Ada Behan, in looking pretty as 
Maid Marian, and John Drew, in giving Eobin 
an active and virile appearance, did about all 
that it was possible for them to do. 

Many eloquent encomiums were lavished upon 
tho i)roduction of ''Twelfth Night,*' which Mr. 
Paly produced in 1893, and especially upon the 
\'iola of Ada Rehan. I wish I could agree with 
tlioni. Pictorially the representation was charm- ^ 
in>r» but there honest praise must end. Most of I 
tho actors were unequal to the parts assigned 
thorn, and the general performance was devoid 
alike of romance and poetry. The character of 
Viohi, charged with the most delicate and fanci- 
t\il sentiment, was outside the range of Ada 
Kehan, except in those phases of it denoted in 
tho oomio vein. Her delivery of verse, whether 
M^k or rhymed, was always curiously monoto- 

356 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

nous and inexpressive. She was fairly success- 
ful in the soliloquy after her first interview with 
Olivia, and the duel scene — of which, in accord- 
ance with silly tradition, she made roaring farce 
— ^but in the sentimental and poetic interiudes 
her droning sing-song robbed the lines of nearly 
all their poetic essence. She was lacking, more- 
over, in that refined and measured grace of 
gesture and action essential to illusion in any 
attempt to embody a conception so ethereal and 
free from earthly grossness. 



357 



MORE ABOUT AUGUSTIN DALY'S COMPANY— 

THE MADISOX SQUARE COMPANY 

Convincing proof of Daly's artistic ambition 
was furnished in 1895, when he revived "The 
Two Gentlemen of Verona," a eomedy which had 
not been seen in this country for fifty years. 
The experiment, it must be added, was not at- 
tended by any large measure of success. The 
play is not a good one for acting purposes, 
most of the personages being shadowy and the 
story confused and violently improbable. Bat 
the dialogue bears the unmistakable stamp of 
Shakespeare's genius in many isolated passages 
full of delightful grace and imagery, quaint 
humor, and charming sentiment. Their superfine 
quality is presumptive evidence of corruption, 
or divided workmanship in other parts of the 
text. Mr. Daly did not try to produce the piece 
in anything like its original form. He reduced 
the five acts to four, cut the lines freely, and 
transposed or omitted scenes to suit his own pur- 
pose. No fault is to be found with him on this 
count; on the whole, he did his work neatly and 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

with sufficient discretion^ presenting an acting 
version that ran tolerably smoothly and was 
fairly coherent. The acting was of passable 
merit, but never brilliant enough to impress any 
part of it indelibly on the memory. Ada Rehan's 
Julia, like her Viola, exercised the personal fas- 
cination of the actress. The Valentine of John 
Craig, the Duke of George Clarke, the Sir Thurio 
of Sidney Herbert, the Speed of Herbert Gres- 
ham, the Lucetta of Sibyl Carlisle, and the Syl- 
via of Miss Elliot were all capable, and James 
Lewis was exceedingly comical as Launce. But 
the real attractions lay in the stage pictures, 
which were uncommonly rich in spectacular and 
artistic beauty, and the interpolated music of 
Sir Henry Bishop. In its entirety this was 
choice entertainment, but to say that it was 
Shakespearean would be gross flattery. 

Augustin Daly delayed his production of 
'*Much Ado About Nothing'' far too long. 
When he essayed this scintillating comedy in 
1898 his company had been sorely weakened by 
death and desertion, and he had little left but 
his scene painters. They, as often before, helped 
him manfully in his hour of need, but it is not 
for the framework in which they are placed that 
Shakespeare lovers go to see Benedick and Bea- 
trice. His scenic apparatus was all that could 

359 



SIXT\' YEARS OF THE THEATER 

be desired — he never stinted care or money— 
but liis performers, many of them raw recmits 
from the contemporary theater, were utterly at 
sea. With all their vivacity, earnestness, and 
general intelligence, they had none of the as- 
surance, distinction, gallantry, or address indis- 
pensable in literary and romantic comedy. 

Some of our modern critics — many of whom 
never saw literary comedy or tragedy properly 
performed — are very contemptuous in their ref- 
erences to the artificiality and unreality of the 
style of the old-time actors. Of course, it was 
artificial and unreal, hut only in the sense that 
all the great masterpieces of imaginative fiction 
are unreal. It was a style deliberately culti- 
vated, and developed through some centuries of 
experience to harmonize with, and give full ef- 
fect to, incidents, thoughts, aspirations, and emo- 
tions outside the experience of common humanity. 
It did not, perhaps, always achieve its full pur- 
pose, but it came infinitely nearer to the realiza- 
tion of the fanciful than the ignoble and slovenly 
utterance and unregulated, spasmodic, and inex- 
pressive gesture of the untaught, and self-acting 
player ever can. It involved a laborious study 
of artistic principles, and it was abandoned 
chieSy because it was laborious. As the demand 
for actors increased with the multiplication of 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

speculative theaters and modem social plays, 
the opportunities of teaching them grew less and 
less. If Miss Ada Eehan had learned the secrets 
of this old school, her Beatrice would not have 
been so markedly deficient in the air of personal 
distinction naturally associated with the bril- 
liant Lady Disdain. Her impersonation, although 
rightly spirited, was somewhat over-robust and 
broad in humor. It was, in manner, a replica of 
her Lady Teazle. Beatrice stands upon a much 
higher intellectual plane, and her wit is of a 
keener and higher order. Not that Miss Eehan 
failed to give emphasis to her lines; on the con- 
trary, in her eagerness to make the most of 
every point, she delivered her thrusts with a 
deliberation and serious intent which almost con- 
veyed a suggestion of malignity, entirely incon- 
sistent with the character. Beatrice was half in 
love with her antagonist when she rated him most 
sharply. In the church scene, Miss Eehan won 
her audience by a fine display of honest womanly 
indignation, but she never really ^^got into the 
skin'^ of Beatrice. In the whole of this repre- 
sentation there were but two characters which 
were adequately portrayed. One was the Don 
John of Sidney Herbert, a sinister; Mephisto- 
phelian, courtly villain, who completely satisfied 
the imagination, and the Dogberry of William 

361 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Ghriffiths, which had all the owlish solemnity, doll 
persistency, and placid self-content of that mono- 
mental jackass. 

Here is a convenient place to say farewell to 
Daly's Theater, which already had h^paai to lose 
some of its earlier prestige. Since the death 
of Lester Walladk, it had been acknowledged to 
be the leading comedy theater of the oonntry, 
bnt it was only in the lighter forms of comedy 
that it habitually excelled. Mr. Daly suffered 
by the progressive degeneracy of the stage, which 
in his day was very rapid. The race of edn- 
catedy all-round actors was dying out, and in his 
most ambitious eflforts he was handicapped by 
the lack of suitable material. There was no ex- 
istent body of trained actors from which he 
could obtain recruits. The few accomplished 
players he possessed were not enough to carry 
the company safely through the difficult tasks 
assigned to them. He did much excellent work, 
and his theater for many years was an institu- 
tion of which any city might be proud, but it 
was not a productive school. It contributed noth- 
ing to the theater of the future. John Drew 
and Ada Eehan, indeed, continued to revolve in 
their respective orbits, as solitary stars, for 
many years, but they grew no brighter, achieved 
no new renown. They only continued to do in 

362 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

the old way what they had done many times 
before. When it was too late, Mr. Drew tried 
to break the shackles that bonnd him and take 
a step upward. He essayed Benedick — ^bnt it 
would be futile to discuss an experiment which 
is not likely to be renewed. 

In 1885, A. M. Palmer assumed the manage- 
ment of the Madison Square Theater — a pretty 
little house of the bandbox variety, which, under 
the earlier direction of the Eev. Dr. Mallory, 
had been chiefly remarkable for the enduring 
popularity of Steele Mackaye's *' Hazel Kirke,'* 
in which much excellent acting was done by C. 
W. Couldock, Eifie EUsler, and Eben Plympton 
— ^with an uncommonly able company, carefully 
collected with a view to the special character of 
the work to be done. It will not be necessary to 
linger long over this particular chapter of New 
York theatrical history, for not many of the 
plays produced had much literary or dramatic 
worth, but some of the performances were alto- 
gether uncommon in their histrionic excellence. 
Mr. Palmer could estimate the capacities of his 
actors much more accurately than could Mr. 
Daly and rarely miscast them. He began opera- 
tions with the '^Sealed Instructions'* of Mrs. 
J. C. Campbell Verplanck, a melodrama clearly 
preposterous when subjected to any sort of 

363 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

analysis, but packed with effective situations aod 
eentiment of the purely theatrical kind. Nothing 
need be said about it. But the acting was of that 
competent and vivid aort that establishes tem- 
porary illusion. 

Jessie Millward, who was to prove herself one 
of the cleverest of noodern actresses in melo- 
drama and social comedy, made a living creation 
of an impossible heroine. Her embodiment was 
signalized by delicacy, tenderness, glowing emo- 
tion, vivacity, refinement, and grace. Her crisp, 
clear, resonant and tuneful speech — few actresses 
surpass her in elocutionary art — lent distinction 
to very common dialogue. Henry M. Pitt, an Eng- 
lish actor of a refined but somewhat heavy type, 
was exactly suited in the character of a drawling, 
imperturbable, unscrupulous reprobate, with a 
fine veneer of social polish. Herbert Kelcey 
played the maligned and self-sacrificing hero 
with fine tact and manliness. Fred Bobinson, 
the old Sadler's Wells man — an actor of invalu- 
able experience — enacted an ambassador with 
authoritative ease and forceful skill; W. J. 
Lemoyne made a small part prominent by the 
nicety of its finish. Annie Eussell contributed 
a charming sketch of girlish innocence. The 
whole representation was alive from start to 
finish, and thus substantial success was won hy a 
poor play. 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

There was much more sterling quality in 
** Saints and Sinners,'* which must always have 
a high place among the successful plays of Henry 
Arthur Jones. It is too well known to need 
description. The story, as cavilling critics have 
suggested, may be conventional, the treatment 
theatrical, and some of the sentiment a trifle 
syrupy, but the piece is full of strong, vital, 
varied characterization, is admirably compact 
and eflfective, is unquestionably true to life in 
many of its details, and sane, vigorous, and 
wholesome in tone. Not many better plays of 
its class have been seen in this city. J. H. 
Stoddart played the central part of the old min- 
ister with great realism, picturesqueness, humor, 
pathos, and thrilling bursts of passion. The 
dignity of his rebuke to the seducer, his agony of 
apprehension and fear on hearing of his 
daughter's flight, his ecstasy upon her recovery, 
and his triumph over temptation in the scene 
with the deacons, were notable points in a memo- 
rable embodiment. 

The hypocritical Deacon of W. J. Lemoyne was 
a striking study finished with rare delicacy and 
firmness. Davidge depicted a sodden old drunk- 
ard with a realism that would have been painful 
but for the redeeming vein of unctuous humor. 
C. P. Flockton, another veteran, was a babbling, 

365 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

greedy, foolish old grocer to the life. L. F. 
MasBen made a bit by the simple manliness of 
the rural lover, and Herbert Keloey was an at- 
tractive and spedoos seducer. A prettier or more 
sympathetic heroine than Marie Burroughs could 
scarcely have been found, while all the subordin- 
ate characters were of a corresponding excd- 
lence. There never was the least doubt of the 
success of this representation. I can not recall 
more than two or three instances in my long 
experience when a good play, well performed, 
has failed to find appreciative audiences. Good 
acting has often given long life to bad plays, and 
innumerable good plays have been damned on 
account of incompetent representation, but where 
play and acting are both good the public judg- 
ment may be trusted to recognize the fact and 
reward it. 

Spectators flocked in great numbers to the 
Madison Square Theater when W. S. Gilbert ^s 
brilliant, satirical extravaganza ^* Engaged'* was 
put on. In this case, again, the entire repre- 
sentation, scenic and histrionic, was admirable, 
worthy of the intellectual and humorous delights 
of the dialogue. The outstanding feature was the 
Belinda Treheme of Agnes Booth, an almost 
perfect realization of the author's ideal. It was 
a delicious bit of artistry, as good an example 

306 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

of refined, subtle, and spirited burlesque as any 
one could wish to see. In facial expression, il- 
luminative gesture, mock heroics, alert attention 
veiled by feigned abstraction, it was infinitely 
dexterous, neat, imaginative, and consistent. The 
tart scene was inimitable. Success has its pen- 
alties. The necessity of eating so many tarts 
every night finally brought to Mrs. Booth an 
anticipatory nausea which threatened calamity. 
Tarts became to her a word of hideous and re- 
volting omen. The problem was solved by the 
ingenuity of the pastry cook, who evolved a 
wafer counterfeit, empty and collapsible, which 
could be disposed of without passing the lips 
at all, and without the audience being any the 
wiser. Thus the comedy went on, and the tarts 
were satisfactorily consumed without being 
eaten. 

Soon afterward this accomplished actress was 
seen to great advantagie in **01d Love Letters,** 
the miniature comedy into which Bronson How- 
ard put some of his very best work. This was 
played with W. S. Gilbert *8 poetical satire, 
' ' Broken Hearts, * * a piece flavored with a some- 
what sour cynicism, but of very positive literary 
merit, and rich in quaint, fanciful humor and 
human experience. This, too, was singularly well 
acted and most tastefully mounted. Louis Mas- 

367 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

sen was a romantic figure as Florian and played 
him with fervor, grace, and discernment. W. 
J. Lemoyne enacted Mousta with complete com- 
prehension and ripe skill, while Mand Harrison, 
an actress noted chiefly for her archly impish 
coquetry, played the Lady Hilda with sweet and 
simple seriousness and read her lines most musi- 
cally and well. These were entertainments in 
which the most intelligent could rejoice. 

* ' Jim the Penman ' ' was, perhaps, the most suc- 
cessful of all the Madison Square productions. 
This noted play of Sir Charles Young was only 
melodrama, of course, but an uncommonly good 
specimen, ini^enious, abounding in suspense and 
situation, very adroitly built, and vital though 
conventional in characterization. Of itself it 
was not of much importance, but good melo- 
drama, with the throb of honest emotion in it, 
and a plausible resemblance to the facts of life, 
is a form of art and has its legitimate place in 
the best theaters. It often furnishes opportuni- 
ties for creative acting far superior to those of 
the ordinary social play, and is not much more 
remote from reality. In *^ Jim' the Penman" the 
acting was of high quality throughout, and in 
some respects brilliant. This last epithet may 
be applied properly to the Mrs. Ralston of Agnes 
Booth. She had to play the part of a good 

368 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

woman, a devoted wife and mother, suddenly 
awakened to the fact that her husband, in whom 
she has reposed the most implicit faith and trust, 
is a great criminal. The knowledge comes to 
her in the third act, when she discovers a forged 
signature which she knows he has written. A 
finer example of the eloquence of facial expres- 
sion than she exhibited in this scene has seldom 
been shown upon the stage. For several minutes 
she sat almost motionless, without uttering a 
word, trusting solely to the play of her features 
to reveal the course of her thoughts. Any fail- 
ure of significance would have made the scene 
tedious, the least exaggeration might have made 
it ridicxilous. She avoided both dangers with 
the surest instinct, and held the audience in 
frozen suspense. 

It was acting of the most subtle, delicate, and 
intellectual kind. Subsequently she reaped a 
whirlwind of applause by the really magnificent 
outburst of scornful passion with which she de- 
nounced her husband, and she triumphed again 
in the womanly appeal addressed to his better 
nature in the last act. Equally fine was the emo- 
tional pathos she displayed in the farewell scene 
with her daughter. Only a most accomplished 
artist could have wrought such effects with 
methods of such exquisite simplicity. It was 

369 



8EKT7 YEARS OF THE THEATER 

work worthy of a great dramatio masterineQa^ 
and probably was the finest adiievement in hor 
career. Frederick Bobin m^ a thoroiiglily a^ 
pert actor, played the P man with great tad 
and skilL The charac r was one of commiOB 
melodramatio type, but he vitalized it ^7 his iii- 
teUigence. The minute etail with which lie 
indicated the incessant rEun of suspiaon and 
anxiety beneath the snmption of jovial and 
placid prosperity \ exceedingly clever, and is 
the later scenes h fits of rage and remorse had 
power and sincerity. Mr. Pitt was manly and 
attractive as a virtuons lover. Mr. Lemojme 
furnished a vigorous and finished study of a for- 
eign sharper, and E. M. Holland presented an 
original and delightfully humorous sketch of a 
civil service detective. William Davidge, C. P. 
Flockton, Mrs. Phillips, Louis Massen, and Maud 
Harrison played subordinate parts with satisfy- 
ing competence. This was not only a good show 
— it was a first-rate theatrical performance. 

This remark would be true also of **The 
Martyr,'* adapted from a play of D'Ennery by 
that wily theatrical purveyor, A. R. Cazauran, 
but the piece itself was mere theatrical clap- 
trap, a huddle of sensational and emotional situ- 
ations. It pleased the public for many weeks, 
but the only meritorious thing about it was the 

370 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

performance. Agnes Booth, Mrs. E. J. PhU- 
lips, Fred. Eobinson, J. H. Stoddart, William 
Davidge, C. P. Flockton, E. M. Holland, and 
Maud Harrison all distinguished themselves, and 
their united efforts carried the play safely over 
many perilous places. One of the notable per- 
formances that contributed to the success was 
that of a young foreign adventurer by Alexandro 
Salvini, son of the unapproachable Tommaso, 
who, beyond question, inherited some part of his 
father's genius. He died too soon. He it was 
who won the chief honors in *' Partners, ' * a play 
which Eobert Buchanan adapted, not maladroitly, 
from *'Fromont Jeune et Eisler aine.'* 

As the deceived husband he demonstrated his 
rare powers of versatility, his sense of character, 
and his great range of emotional expression. 
There was scarcely a trace of his personal indi- 
viduality — ^which was of a striking kind — or even 
of his nationality, in the middle-aged German 
whom he presented. His jovial, boisterous, 
awkward, but self-reliant, loyal, tender-hearted 
man of aflfairs was a copy from life. It 
was in the passionate scenes of the third and 
fourth acts that he gave evidence of the sacred 
fire within him, and electrified the house. As 
the ruin of his business and the threatened dis- 
grace to his home gradually came to his percep- 

371 



SIXTY YEABS OF THE THEATER 

tion, the variety and vividness of his pantoimw 
and facial expression were astonishiiig in one 
so yonng. The artistio restraint which he ob- 
served in the earlier soenes was in splendid oofr 
trast with the paroxysms of fury in whidi Iob 
rising wrath cnlndnated. He gave no oanae for 
the least suspicion of rant The control he hdd 
over the swelling volnme of his passion np tD 
the climax was presumptive evidenoe of geoiaB. 
There were moments in his denimdatiofli 
of his foolish wife and his treacherous partner, 
when, in vocal volume, terribleness of aspect, and 
emotional impulse, he recalled memories of Mb 
mighty sire. One of them was at that instant 
when he stripped the jewels from his kneeling 
wife. By this single performance he won a place 
in the first rank of emotional actors. He eclipsed 
all his associates — it is only fair to add that he 
had most of the opportunities — ^but E. M. Hol- 
land, Mrs. E. J. Phillips, William Davidge, C. 
P. Flockton, and Marie Burroughs did excel- 
lent work in the supporting cast. 

The '* Captain Swift" of C. Haddon Chambers 
was in general character akin to **Jim the Pen- 
man, ' ' but a melodrama of much inferior quality. 
Here its inherent weaknesses were increased by 
a feeble ''happy ending.'* Originally the hero, 
when hopelessly at bay, blew out his brains, 

372 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

which lent the piece a measure of dramatic con- 
sistency and dignity. Structurally considered it 
was cleverly put together, but there was nothing 
in it to warrant present discussion. The per- 
formance, however, if not in all respects equal 
to that of **Jim the Penman,'* was not far be- 
hind it in merit. Agnes Booth acted very finely 
in the somewhat unsympathetic part of the hero- 
ine, and Maurice Barrymore, then in the heyday 
of youth and vigor, was a picturesque hero, and 
acted well until he was asked to be pathetic. J. 
H. Stoddart, Fred Eobinson, E. M. Holland, 
Annie Russell, and Marie Burroughs all had parts 
nicely suited to their respective capacities, and 
every theatrical opportunity in the play re- 
ceived its full value. Such a representation would 
have insured the success of a much sillier piece. 
In **Aunt Jack,** an English farcical comedy, 
by Ralph R. Lumley, in which Mrs. John Wood 
had delighted London for months, Agnes Booth, 
who was not regarded generally as a comic 
actress — ^her Constance in **King John** enjoyed 
high repute — demonstrated her all-round train- 
ing and elastic ability. She presented a most 
lifelike type of a peppery, impetuous, self-willed, 
somewhat vulgar, but thoroughly warm-hearted 
woman. Her performance was one that Mrs. 
John Wood herself might have been proud of, 

373 



I 

I 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
and she was admirably assisted by E. M. Holland, 
J. H. Stoddart, Fred Eobinson, and Mand Har- 
rison. The play was naught, but the representa- 
tion was good enough to justify the prodactiou. 
In *'A Pair of Spectacles" ("Les Petits 
Oiseanx"), one of the happiest adaptations of 
Sidney Grundy, the Madison Square company 
gave further proof of its general competency. 
The play, one of those precious comedies in 
which a structure of delightful and natural hu- 
mor is reared upon a foundation of wise and 
sympathetic philosophy, ia too well known to 
need description. The parts of the two brothers 
were entrusted to the veteran J. H. Stoddart 
and E. M. Holland. The former, a comedian of 
a dry and somewhat pungent order, was not able, 
perhaps, to personify all the radiant, beaming 
benignity with which John Hare endowed the 
philanthropic Benjamin, but in his white locks 
and gold spectacles he was a striking picture of 
elderly amiability. His acting in the earlier 
scenes was exceedingly subtle and delicate, the 
easy deliberation of his manner, suave gesture, 
gentle speech, and ever-ready smile being con- 
sistently emblematic of a generous, contented, 
unsuspicious nature. It was all upon the level 
of high comedy, a genuine study from nature 
idealized and illumined by art and humor. Most 
374 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

artistic was his denotement of the slow develop- 
ment of the evil spirit engendered in him by the 
teaching of his brother and his own unlucky dis- 
coveries of imposture. The various stages of 
his transformation through the use of Gregory *s 
hideously practical spectacles were marked with 
an exquisite sense of proportion. In the end he 
was somewhat too vehement and noisy, giving 
too much rein to the comic impulse within him, 
but his performance as a whole was masterly. 

E. M. Holland, whose task was less difficult, 
was almost equally good as the grasping, grind- 
ing Sheffield merchant, Gregory. In dress, 
manner, and movement he represented a con- 
vincing image of bull-headed self-reliance, wide- 
awake shrewdness and selfish prosperity. There 
was a chill in the very humor of it. Maud Har- 
rison played the part of Benjamin *s young and 
affectionate wife in exactly the right mood of 
semi-comic, semi-pathetic amazement and per- 
plexity. Minor parts were played by Fred Rob- 
inson and others with unfailing cooperative in- 
telligence. This good performance of a good 
play found the usual reward in the cordial and 
prolonged appreciation of the public. 

The record in these pages does not pretend to 
be complete or consecutive. Its only aim is to 
Bote briefly those personal and managerial 

375 



I 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

achievements upon the New York stage, in my 
experience of it, which seem most deserving of 
remembrance. After "A Pair of Speetaelea" 
nothing of special note occurred at the Madison 
Square Theater, which A. M. Palmer was soon 
to relinquish to assume control of Wallack's. 
where his good fortune deserted liim. His choice 
of plays — most of them have been long forgotten 
— was not happy, and although they were always 
admirably mounted and execHeotly performed— 
some very brilliant work was done by J. H. 
Stoddart and Fred Robinson in a clever but 
incredible play, Iiy Sidney Grundy, called "The 
Broken Seal" — they failed to please the public, 
and before long a career of hitherto almost un- 
broken prosperity ended in financial disaster. 
Mr. Palmer was a valuable asset to the American 
theater in his day. Although comparatively few 
of the plays that he produced were of any great 
literary or dramatic consequence, they were for 
the most part excellent specimens of their kind, 
and in all the details of production — cast, scen- 
ery, and stage management — he always exhibited 
taste, liberality, and knowledge. 



XXIV 

THE LYCEUM THEATER COMPANY 

Among the stock companies of the period now 
under consideration, that of the Lyceum Theater 
under the management of Daniel Frohman must 
not be overlooked. It was not, in the strictest 
sense of the phrase, a stock company, for it 
underwent a good many changes from season 
to season, recruits coming and going pretty fre- 
quently, but it generally had a backbone of ster- 
ling players, who gave artistic tone and sub- 
stance to performances of a very varied charac- 
ter. Mr. Frohman was — and still is, in spite of 
his recent association with the ''movies^' — essen- 
tially a theatrical man. Associated with the foot- 
lights, in one capacity or another, from early 
youth, he has probably forgotten more about 
the practical details of production, in and out 
of the theater, than any of his professional asso- 
ciates ever knew. His invaluable experience was 
reinforced by great executive ability, indefati- 
gable industry, shrewdness, and good taste. 
Strong as was the commercial instinct in him 
— and it is in the ideal commercial theater that 




SXXTT YEARS OF THE THEATER 
anything like a permanent theatrical revival must 
be looked for — ^it did not dominate bis artistia 
ambition to eatablieh a theater Thioh should 
meet the support of fastidioos playgoers. And 
his efforts in this direction vere sucorasfol in 
considerable degree. Bnt this ambition was 
qualified by an inherent diBtnut of the oapadty 
of the pnblio to appreciate the valnes of dramatic 
art in its beat forms, and in seeking the *'popii- 
lar" he sometimes fell below the level of his 
own standards. Nevertheless there were some 
superior plays and much excellent acting at the 
Lyceum under his direction, and several of the 
younger players who served their apprenticeship 
there proved the efficiency of the training by 
developing into successful stars. Prominent 
among these were E. H. Sothern, Georgia Cay- 
van, Mary Mannering, J. K. Hackett, and Henry 
Miller. 

Not many of the plays produced will need even 
passing notice. Few of them failed completely— 
for Mr. Frohman did not make many serions 
mistakes — and all of them were capably acted 
and admirably monnted; but some were mere 
trifles, others of a conventional social type, and 
comparatively few distinguished. The total rec- 
ord was honorable rather than brilliant. In '*One 
of Our Girls" (1885) Mr. Bronson Howard chose 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

for his subject the vast differences between the 
French and American systems in matrimonial 
engagements. The piece was one of his most 
popular achievements, but was not a very valu- 
able contribution to drama or social philosophy. 
It had some literary skill — the dialogue being 
lively, crisp, and effective — ^but told a most im- 
probable story and was full of flagrant exaggera- 
tions. His American girl was made to talk and 
act in a manner which would have greatly aston- 
ished the circles she was supposed to adorn and 
was interpreted by an actress, Helen Dauvray, 
who had not the tact to soften her asperities, 
but rather enhanced them. There was, however, 
an abundance of clap-trap to tickle the ears of 
the groundlings. But there was a scene in the 
third act in which E. H. Sothern, then a novice 
gave evidence of the stuff that was in him by a 
nicely conceived bit of quiet, dignified, manly 
acting, which won for him a special recall. 

This probably prompted Mr. Frohman to give 
him the part of Prosper Couramont in a revival 
of **A Scrap of Paper ^^ a year later. It was a 
risky experiment thus to challenge comparison 
with one of Lester Wallack's most admired im- 
personations, but the young actor endured the 
ordeal with credit. He had not the presence, 
the authority, the quizzical humor, or the consum- 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

mate art of his illustrious predecessor, bat -be 
played with refinement, vivacity, and vigor, aai 
altogether did exceedingly well. In ^^The Hiijk> 
est Bidder," a mixture of farce and meli 
he assumed a part that was specially devised 
his father, E. A. Sothem, and made a 
hit, although He laid himself open to the 
of exaggeration both in the more comic and seiir 
ous scenes. He was still in his formative period, 
but his progress in executive ability was rapid, 
and, soon afterward, his unflagging vivacity as 
the impecunious young journalist in **The Great 
Pink Pearl" won him a substantial success. At 
this time his chief strength seemed to be in scenes 
of comic perplexity. 

*'The Wife," a social play in which Messrs. 
De Mille and Belasco collaborated, may be per- 
mitted to remain in oblivion, but it afforded op- 
portunities to Herbert Kelcey and two risinu: 
young actors, Henry Miller and Georgia Cay- 
van. Henry Miller, as a lover, interpreted some 
emotional scenes with impressive force, if some- 
what crude methods, and Georgia Caj^'an, an ac- 
tress of sound intelli,2:ence and conscientious pur- 
pose, wlio was graduated from the lecture plat- 
form, and whose acting always showed the influ- 
ence of that experience, disj)layed much true feel- 
ing and a tactful self-restraint in making the 

380 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

confession of a repentant wife. She was not 
gifted with any large amount of imagination or 
inspiration, but her frank and hearty manner* 
and precise, confident method were attractive and 
satisfying, and she was a great favorite at the 
Lyceum for several years. She and Herbert 
Kelcey were curiously cast in a revival of Pin- 
ero's *' Sweet Lavender, '* which had a long run. 
Pinero, who apparently adopted his idea of 
an American gentleman from the columns of 
Punch, drew his Horace Bream, a supposed New 
Yorker, in the spirit of burlesque. This charac- 
ter was entrusted to Mr. Kelcey, the only Eng- 
lishman in the cast. Miss Cayvan had to be Miss 
GilfiUian, an Englishwoman of a pronounced 
type. Neither performer made the slightest ap- 
proach to the intent of the author, but by ignor- 
ing it greatly added to the plausibility of the 
comedy. Mr. Kelcey converted the pushful 
American, who carries his point always by sheer 
force of "bluff" and "cheek," into a vivacious, 
resourceful, but courteous gentleman, while Miss 
Cayvan, stripping Miss GilfiUian of her prim- 
ness and awful respect for propriety, presented 
her as a charming, bright, and unaffected speci- 
men of womanhood. The result of the double 
misrepresentation was altogether satisfactory. 
The general interpretation of the play was ad- 

381 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER ■■ 
mirable. Mr. Lemoyne, always to be depended 
upon in eccentric comedy, was overweighted in 
the purely pathetic scenes of Dick Phenyl, bnt 
played him delightfully in the lighter passages, 
with rich humor and artistic realism. 

The company was scarcely equal to the emo- 
tional requirements of "The Marquise," a ver- 
sion of Sardou's "Ferreol," which was one of 
the earlier Union Square successes, but Miss Cay- 
van played the heroine with notable ability. She 
atoned largely for her want of finesse by her 
manifest sincerity. In the meeting with her 
former lover, when she realizes the dilemma in 
which she has been placed by her imprudence, 
she interpreted with unaffected naturalness the 
conflicting emotions of a loving wife and devoted 
mother, forced to decide between clear duty and 
self-interest. Her performance at the crisis 
marked an upward step in her histrionic prog- 
ress. In the third act she was too boisterons, 
but in the tinal act her confession was made with 
a simplicity that was really fine. An excellent 
reader always, the set deliberation, with tears in 
her eyes and throat, with which she brokenly 
recited the story of her indiscretion, was highly 
artistic. Mr. Lemoyne, as the gamekeeper, was 
the only player in the supporting east who real- 
ized all his opportunities. He furnished a mem- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

orable stndy of malignant cunning, and desper- 
ate villany. 

**The Idler '* was one of the notable produc- 
tions at the Lyceum. Of no real dramatic con- 
sequence, this piece demonstrated the uncommon 
ingenuity of Haddon Chambers in the concoction 
of a melodramatic plot, false to nature and fact, 
but bristling with stirring theatrical scenes of 
incident and emotion, and fairly plausible in its 
rapidity of action. It was remarkably well acted 
throughout. Miss Cayvan, as the heroine, in the 
various crises to which she was subjected, sur- 
passed herself not only in passionate utterance, 
but in the denotement of suppressed agitation. 
She had not the artistic cunning of Agnes Booth 
or any of the marvelous faculty of Clara Morris 
for suggesting untold agonies beneath a stony 
calm. There was no intimation in her emotional 
language of something greater and deeper that 
could be uttered. All lay upon the surface. But 
her vigor and earnestness created at least the mo- 
mentary illusion sufficient in plays never meant 
to provoke reflection. In **The Idler'' they ful- 
filled every requirement. Mr. Kelcey, Nelson 
Wheatcroft, W. J. Lemoyne, Mrs. Charles Wal- 
cot, Effie Shannon, and others lent her most 
efficient support. 

After this, Mr. Frohman revived the **01d 

383 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Heads and Young Hearts'' of that theatrical 
Autolycus, Dion Boucicault. He wished, presum- 
ably, to give his company a trial in the old arti> 
ficial comedy of which this piece was a more or 
less ingenious imitation. But the experiment was 
not very successful from the artistic point of 
view. Herbert Kelcey was a satisfactory Little- 
ton Coke, and Charles Walcot — ^both these actors 
had a Wallack experience behind them — ^was capi- 
tal as the explosive Col. Socket, but W. J. Le- 
moyne's Jesse Rural was but a poor substitute 
for that of John Gilbert, and Miss Cayvan lacked 
the distinction that should belong to Lady Alice. 
Most of the minor characters were at sea. A 
return was quickly made to modem melodrama 
in the *' Squire Kate" of Robert Buchanan. This 
play, which proved popular, was one of exceed- 
inis;\y iinoqiial merit. Conventional, and not a 
little absurd, in its main incidents, it contained 
some admirable dialoiriK* and a ^ood feminine 
study in the eliaraeter of Kate Thorpe, the hero- 
ine, a generous woman temi)orarily transformed 
by bitter disappointment and jealousy. It suitc^i 
Miss Cavvan admirably, and she made a crreat 
hit in it. Th(M*e is one seene in which Kate, who 
has just been be<2:uiled into deolarin.c^ her love 
for a vounii: bailiff, discovers that her sister is 
her successful rival and overwhelms her with a 

384 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

torrent of fiery denimciation and scorn, lashing 
herself into increasing frenzy until she falls 
exhausted and senseless. It is, of course, a bit 
of sheer theatricalism, but it provided just the 
opportunity in which Miss Cayvan could display 
her most effective resources. The demonstration 
called for physical rather than imaginative pow- 
ers, and she made it with a vehemence and vigor 
which were exceedingly impressive. Her j^or- 
formance greatly helped the play and her own 
reputation. 

She next appeared in two plays specially writ- 
ten for the Lyceum Theater by Sardou. The 
first, ** Americans Abroad,'* was a comedy, in 
which an heiress pretended to be mine^J in order 
to test her lover, and the second, ^^A Woman ^» 
Silence,'* a melodrama, whose vioU^t in^rredibil- 
ity was imperfectly atoned for by the ingenuity 
of its workmanship. Neither of them wa^^i im- 
portant, and in neither of them did .nbe appear 
to special advantage. In **The Ama7/yn.^** of 
Pinero she made one of a charming trio wifb 
Bessie Tyree and Katharine Hof^jrir-e, brjt the^re 
was nothing in the part of the l^rly Sf>4>.\ t/f 
test her real capa/rity. Her reputatirm ^< a le^/t- 
ing actress was now assured, biit her heaifh f^ile/f 
her, and she did not lirre lonaf t/-> prof.f. r.y If. 
Whether she would have marie mwh tnrthfs 




SIXTY TEARS OF THE THEATER 

progress in her art, had she survived, is donbtfiiL 
Her place at the Lyoenm was taken by IsaM 
Irving, a capable actress, less gifted by natmal 
advantages. She appeared with Herbert Ed- 
cey in H. A. Jones's '^The Case of Bebellioiu 
Susan,'' but was scarcely equal to the part of 
the adventurous Lady Susan HarraMn. Nor wu 
any remarkable success secured by her or (hB 
company in '^The Ideal Husband" of Osoir 
Wilde — a charaoteristio work, with a brilliant be- 
ginning and feeble ending— or in ^'The Home 
Secretary" of Sidney Oarton. A production of 
more note was **The Benefit of the Doubt," by 
Pinero, a remarkably clever study of contem- 
porary social life, albeit somewhat ^hilliTig in 
its cynical tone. In this the acting honors were 
carried off by Stephen Grattan, Herbert Kelcey, 
Mr, Lemoyne, and Mrs. Whiffen. The general 
representation was marred by the excessive zeal 
of some of the players who overacted. Miss Irv- 
ing committed the error — ^in a scene of semi- 
intoxication— of making the heroine actnaUy 
drunk. In fact, the company in those days was 
in partial eclipse. The advent of a new leading 
woman, Mary Mannering, an actress of mudi 
personal charm and varied but not brilliant abil- 
ity, did not help matters much. Several plays, 
including **The Late Mr. Castillo,'' **The First 

386 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Gentleman of Europe,'' and **The Mayflower/' 
all of moderate quality, were produced without 
exciting much public enthusiasm. 

A change for the better, however, came with 
'*The Princess and the Butterfly'' of A. W. Pin- 
ero. This was a brilliant but disappointing play, 
with scarcely a dull line in it, and much clever 
characterization, but no real dramatic purpose or 
substance. The attractive title of **The Fantas- 
tics" perhaps characterizes it most accurately. 
The opening scenes warranted the expectation 
of an impending emotional, social, or dramatic 
crisis of some sort, but all suggested problems 
were left unsolved, and a conventional ending 
precipitately provided with the union of three 
or four pairs of happy lovers. The piece owed 
its success primarily to the dialogue — ^most of 
the acting being undistinguished — ^but chiefly to 
the Fay Juliana of Mary Mannering, who in 
appearance and natural style fitted the part very 
neatly. It was that of a high-spirited, wayward, 
beautiful girl, secretly in love with the middle- 
aged guardian whom she plagued and puzzled. 
Hearing that he contemplated marriage with an 
ancient flame, now widowed, she yields to a fit 
of hysterical passion in which she unwittingly 
betrays the true state of her affections. This 
scene, written with the skill and insight of Pin- 

387 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

ero at his best, was played by Miss Mannexiiv 
with a realistic mimicry of girlish petnlanoe and 
passion that carried conviction, and assured tim 
popularity of the play. The fascination of bar. ^ 
natural manner assisted in her triumph, bnt a- 
large share of it was due to intelligent and forofr- 
ful acting. She further established herself in 
public favor as the fair heroine in ^ ^ Trelawnqf '^ 
of the Wells," in which she was a most piqiiaaft 
figure. She played the comedy scenes ohani^. j 
ingly, with dignity and coquettish grace, and tlM^ | 
few emotional episodes in the Chancellor's hoime J 
with spirit and sincerity. Actually the part was ^ 
no severe test of her ability, but she played it 
like an artist and gave it life. Pinero 's sparkling 
but somewhat unfair and ill-natured satire of the 
old-time actors — they were not all Vincent 
Crummleses — is so familiar that only the brief- 
est reference to it can be permitted. The per- 
formance of it at the Lyceum was, on the whole, 
a good one. Charles Walcot, indeed — a veteran 
who oiiiiflit to liavo known better — changed farce 
into silly travesty ])y his gross exaggeration of 
tlio Chanoellor, but Mr. Boniface and Mrs. 
"Walcot were delightful as the male and female 
^* heavies." Mrs. "WTiiffen was in her element as 
a theatrical landlady, Hilda Spong was perfect 
as the soubrette, Bessie Tyree excellent as the 

3SS 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

young lady with genius for pantomime. E. J, 
Morgan lacked the Bohemian touch that should 
distinguish Tom Wrench, but the general repre- 
sentation left so agreeable an impression that it 
makes a convenient place to close this sununary 
review of the Lyceum Theater. 



389 



JULIA MARLOWE AND E. H. SOTHERK 

In dealing with the comparatively recent past 
it is somewhat difficult to avoid touching apon 
the present. For various reasons I wish to con- 
fine these reminiscences, as far as possible, to 
the nineteeDth century, but occasional reference 
to affairs of the twentieth is inevitable. One 
has to be made, for instance, in the excep- 
tional case of those twin stars, E. H. Sothem and 
Julia Marlowe. Both of them attained profes- 
sional eminence before 1900, and both have made 
great advances since then in national and artis- 
tic reputation. As I wriic. I can not think of any 
other theatrical performers to whom this remark 
would truthfully apply. The stars of the past 
are dead or no brighter, while those of the pres- 
ent are lesser luminaries altogether. The early 
connection of Mr. Sothern with the Lycexmi 
Theater suggests this as the proper place for a 
review of his later career. His development 
from the lightest of farcical comedians into a 
popular tragedian is a remarkable phenomenon 
in these later days, when most succesefol actors 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

are content to be specialists in the art of playing 
but one character, and that their own, but has 
abundant precedent in the history of the older 
theater, in which one man in his time played 
many parts. Actually he passed through a course 
of training very similar to that which was the 
conmaon experience of beginners in the old stock 
companies. When he began he was the veriest 
tyro, and he had to contend with some special 
disadvantages. He was mannered, he was awk- 
ward, his carriage and stature were unimposing, 
and his voice lacking in power and flexibility. 

On the other hand, he had brains, artistic 
ambition, a studious disposition, and indefatiga- 
ble industry. From his father — a highly accom- 
plished comedian with tragic aspirations which 
were never gratified — ^he undoubtedly inherited 
a considerable share of dramatic intuition. But 
he never — ^within my experience — exhibited any- 
thing resembling genius, any flash of genuine 
dramatic inspiration. His progress, which was 
slow but constant, was to be noted chiefly in 
the steady improvement in his mechanism, the 
increasing vigor and decision of his execution, 
his growing confidence, and the notable develop- 
ment of his vocal powers. From the first he 
showed a lively appreciation of humorous situa- 
tion and could assume, without effort, the digni- 

391 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
fiod self-possession of the well-bred man. 
could denote cool contempt, anger, and ind 
nation, bat for a long time his passion was ] 
to be merely noisy, while his pathos was id(M 
onous and artificial. The under swell of the { 
founder emotions he never could suggest by j 
magic spell of voice or gesture, but he bw 
more and more adroit and forceful in the < 
terfeit of surface manifestations. Daring 
alliance with Virginia Harned be tried his i 
in various flights of romance. In "The 
of Lyons" he was utterly unable to vitalize j 
gushing sentimentality of Bulwer Lytton. 
and capable in action, he was completely beafcl 
by the rhapsodical verse. In poetry of any 1 
his delivery, with its falling inflections and . 
variable ending upon the samo mouniful note, 
was apt to be lifeless and lugubrious. As Claude 
he had none of the romantic fire of Fechter or 
the clear and melodious diction of Kyrle Bellew. 
He gave an accurate but soulless copy of a tra- 
ditional form. 

He succeeded better in "The Sunken Bell" 
and "The King's Musketeers," and won some- 
thing like a triumph in the "If I Were King" of 
Justin Huntly McCarthy, one of the best romao- 
tic dramas written in a good many years. As a 
vagabond poet, Villon, created Constable of 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

France for a week, with the certainty of death 
at the end of it, if in the meantime he could 
not win a proud princess, he acted with a spirit 
and variety of resource which left little to be 
desired. But in none of these plays, or in **The 
Song of the Sword,*' was there any intellectual 
problem or any of the emotions whose sources 
lie in the hidden well-springs of the heart. These 
difficulties he was to encounter when he presented 
himself as Hamlet in 1900. This impersonation 
was an unfinished product, which was to improve 
in respect to finish and consistency in later years, 
but remained essentially a good second-rate per- 
formance. What it chiefly lacked was intellectual, 
personal, and spiritual distinction, the touch of 
transforming magic that puts the seal of genius 
upon the work of the conscientious craftsman. 
It rarely descended to the level of mere medi- 
ocrity. The technical execution was, in the main, 
correct and prompted by carefully calculated 
design. 

A better general effect, indeed, would have 
been gained if the laborious care bestowed upon 
minute detail had been less apparent. Anxiety 
over ** points" betrayed him occasionally into 
violence of speech and gesture and painfully 
abrupt transitions of mood. During the opening 
address of the King, for instance, when plunged 

393 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
in the deepest and saddest abstraction, he sud- 
denly" sprang to his feet, alert, irate, and men- 
acing, more like Hotspur than Hamlet. Fre- 
quently during the performance there were simi- 
lar injudicious — I had almost written unjustifiable 
— attempts to create effects by means of startling 
contrasts. There were flagrant errors of thi.s 
sort — errors of divination rather than of inex- 
perience—in the renunciation scene with Ophelia 
when he oscillated continuously between melo- 
dramatic suspicion and conauming passion. In 
meeting with the Ghost he solved the diiEcnlties 
of the wild and whirling words by rattling them 
off like so much gibberish. 

In the play scene his outbreak was mere 
brutum. fulnten. His undiversified elocution 
robbed the soliloquies of all their interest and 
much of their sense. Bnt he put welcome fire 
into the "Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave," 
etc. — possibly taking a hint from Fechter, and 
played the closing scenes with fine spirit and 
vigor. But these, of course, almost act them- 
selves. He was at his best, as might have been 
expected, in the passages with Rosencrantz and 
Guildenstern, the actors, and the grave-diggers, 
where his experience as a comedian stood him in 
good stead. The impersonation was a notable 
achievement, considering all the attendant cir- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

cuinstances, but it only touched the surface of 
the real Hamlet. It did, however, point to Mr. 
Sothem as the chief existent hope of the poetic 
drama and foreshadowed his future alliance with 
Julia Marlowe. 

It was in 1887 that Julia Marlowe, as a novice, 
made her first official appearance in this city as 
Juliet, and exhibited a dramatic intelligence that 
excited instant interest in her future. She raised 
expectations, indeed — ^in the mind of the present 
writer, at all events — ^which have never been 
completely fulfilled. It was a crude perform- 
ance, naturally, but it was irradiated by xmmis- 
takable flashes of the true fire. She was a sylph- 
like creature, with wonderful dark eyes, a rich 
liquid voice, and a face charming in repose and 
fascinatingly eloquent in animation. To the eye 
she was, in many respects, an ideal Juliet. 

Nine years later, when she had acquired much 
stage experience, she reappeared in the charac- 
ter, and it is of this performance, which did not 
differ materially from those of later years, that 
I now speak. It had gained much in artistic 
finish, smoothness, clearness, and consistency, but 
it had fewer of those electric flashes of natural 
intuition by which it had been illuminated for- 
merly. More artistic in mechanical execution, it 
was less potent in virgmal innocence and youth- 

395 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER ^ 
ful fire. Conscious design had brought with it 
an appearance of affectation, which in Juliet, as 
one dreama of her, is inconceivable. There was 
more than a trace of coquetry in the responsive 
glances with which she ogled — the word is delib- 
erately chosen — Eomeo at her first encounter 
with him at the ball. Excellent as was her bal- 
cony scene in many ways— charming, tender, 
bashful, ardent — it was marred by too frequenl 
betrayals of artful premeditation. In the coaxing 
scene with the Nurse she was more wholly nat- 
ural and, therefore, much more affecting and 
convincing, and in the chamber scene the glowing 
tenderness and devotion in the parting from her 
lover and husband were true and very touching. 
Her rebuke to the Nurse, "Thou hast comforted 
me marvelous much," was admirably delivered, 
with full comprehension of its ironic significance, 
and her hurried exit was a notable stroke. In 
the potion scene she rose, in her best moments, 
to tragic heights of emotional expression, but 
here again occurred unwelcome evidences of cal- 
culation in the prolongation of studied pauses 
and picturesque attitudes. She was not swept 
onward in the rush of horror-stricken imagina- 
tion, as were Adelaide Neilson, Modjeska, and 
Stella Colas. Nevertheless, the performance, as 
a whole, was attractive, sympathetic, intelligent, 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

and capable, and established her claim to a high 
place among the leading Juliets of her time. 

The second Shakespearean character she es- 
sayed, in 1887, was that of Viola in *^ Twelfth 
Night,'' which, in after years, was to become 
one of her most popular impersonations. Her 
beauty and youth were important factors in this 
performance. She succeeded best in her scenes 
with Orsino, in which she sounded a pathetic note 
with richness and certainty. Elsewhere, and 
even in her maturity, she never fully grasped 
the more delicate and poetic elements of the 
character. She played it too much in the mood 
of Rosalind. Her vivacity and humor carried 
her successfully through the comic adventures, 
but the essential feminine charm of it frequently 
eluded her. The part of Parthenia in *^Ingo- 
mar'' fell very easily within the scope of her 
abilities. She had not all of the unusual physi- 
cal qualifications of Mary Anderson, but was 
almost as liberally endowed with personal charm 
and was fully as well provided with artistic re- 
sources. The dash of natural feminine coquetry, 
which jarred in Juliet, was appropriate enough 
in the early scenes with the Barbarian, which she 
played capitally. 

Her earlier interpretations of Rosalind were 
curiously destitute of promise. This character, 

397 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER T 

like Hamlet, is one in which few players have 
ever failed absolutely, and when she first repre- 
sented it here in 1890 she pleased by the fresh- 
ness and girlishness which she gave to it. But 
her performance had no glamor of romance, poet- 
ry, or distinction. About Rosalind herself hangs 
no particular mystery. She is an entirely and de- 
lightfully human figure, but she moves in a 
romantic and poetic atmosphere, which must be 
preserved if any sort of illusion is to be created 
for a highly improbable story. Rosalind was 
never one of Miss Marlowe's happiest achieve- 
ments, but it grew in grace and authority as the 
years rolled by. It never attained the daintiness, 
refinement, or imaginative humor of Modjeska's 
or the vitality and sincerity of Henrietta Cros- 
man's, but in the end it was an interesting and 
capable, if never inspired, portrayal. Julia in 
"The Hunchback" — which all novices of twenty- 
five years ago felt themselves obliged to play — 
was another character in which, at first, she 
was heavily overweighted, hnt some of her emo- 
tional work in it, if crude, was decidedly impres- 
sive. In 1896, with her first husband, Robert 
Taber, she appeared in "She Stoops to Con- 
quer," playing Miss Hardcaatle with archness 
and spirit and plentiful technical efficiency. She 
was a bewitching figure, but her acting still dis- 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

played self -consciousness, and was a performance 
rather than an embodiment. 

Next she engaged in a peculiarly audacious 
and profitless experiment in undertaking the part 
of the Prince of Wales in **King Henry IV,*' 
which is masculine in its every fiber. Of course, 
she could not look, speak, or act it. Presumably, 
she wished to give her husband, Robert Taber, 
a chance to play Hotspur, which he did fairly 
well, but not brilliantly. The one redeeming 
feature of this revival was the Falstaff of Wil- 
liam F. Owen, which, though an unfinished sketch, 
was really racy, unctuous, and vital, with the right 
liquorish flavor, and something of the rumbling 
resonance of speech and laughter naturally asso- 
cited with the girth of this unwieldy and jovial 
old profligate. It put all recent impersonations 
of the character completely in the shade, and 
undoubtedly was the best in this part of the 
world since Hackett's. Theatrical fate has sel- 
dom been more ironical than in condemning a 
creation of this value to pass almost unnoticed 
in a representation otherwise incapable and 
irreverent. 

In ** Bonnie Prince Charlie,** an adaptation 
of **Les Jacobites** of Francois Ooppee, Miss 
Marlowe appeared as a patriotic blind beggar 
girl passionately devoted to the Young Pretender 

399 



SIXTY YEAKS OF THE THEATER 

and his cause. For him she vainly sacrificed 
home, faith, character, love, and life. The piece 
was romantic melodrama of a superior order, but 
was overladen by dialogue (which only dimly re- 
Bected the original French) and did not long 
survive. Miss Marlowe's performance inw a 
good one of its kind, not deficient either in pover 
or pathos, but was not extraordinary in axsy 
way, and added nothing to her reputation. She 
won much more substantial success in the "Bar- 
bara Frietehie" of Cylde Fitch, which was an 
extravagant melodramatic invention remotely 
suggested by Whittier's poem. 

With the original Barbara the new heroine had 
nothing whatever to do, either in age or experi- 
ence. She was a lovely young woman, involved 
in most of the tribulations incidental 1o eivil war, 
and central in a succession of those purely artifi- 
cial, but often exceedingly effective, theatrical 
situations which Mr. Fitch devised with such pro- 
lific ingenuity. Nothing in the character presented 
iiisuppral»le difiiculties to an actres.s of Miss Mar- 
lowe's experience, and she played it excellently. 
As an impulsive, pas^^ionato, coquettish, tender, 
high-spirited Southern girl, she was altogether 
fascinating in her earlier love scenes and in the 
melodramatic incidents she acted with pictur- 
esque vigor and a variety of emotional power 
which won for her a dfcivive popular success. 
-J 00 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

By this time she had long been recognized as 
a fixed star of considerable magnitude in a the- 
atrical firmament in which planets were very 
few and far between. But she assumed a new 
prominence when she allied herself, matrimoni- 
ally and professionally, with E. H. Sothern. This 
partnership, not so much on account of what it 
accomplished as on account of what it proved, 
was one of the most significant occurrences in 
recent theatrical history. It put an end to the 
pretense that there was no longer any popular 
demand for the classic drama, and that Shake- 
speare spelt ruin except when associated with 
stars of exceptional brilliancy, such as Edwin 
Booth, Henry Irving, or Ellen Terry. This has 
been the parrot cry of commercial managers from 
time inamemorial. It was raised when the Kem- 
bles passed away, when Macready, Charles Kean, 
Samuel Phelps, Edwin Booth, and Henry Irving 
died. Never did it have the slightest foundation 
in fact. Shakespeare has made money for all 
sorts of actors and managers, at all sorts of 
times and in all sorts of conditions. But the 
public, no more than connoisseurs, will pay 
money to see him butchered. The most ardent 
admirers of Julia Marlowe and E. H. Sothern 
will scarcely claim for them a place among the 
most famous of Shakespearean actors. They 

401 



SIXTY ITiARS OF THE THEATER 
have had the field to themselves, have shone more 
brightly in the absence of greater lights, bat 
their individual achievements have been wor- 
thy, rather than exceptional. No production of 
theirs has been comparable in respect of all- 
around artistic excellence with those of Henrj- 
Irving. They have appeared occasionally in 
parts which manifestly, tested by any exacting 
standard, were beyond their capabilities. But 
they have done nothing ill. All their representa- 
tions have borne the marks of liberal, conscien- 
tious, and capable management, with the result 
that they have played for many seasons, with 
great profit and honor, to crowded houses. Now 
they have retired honorably to enjoy the fruits 
of their labors. 

When the New Theater was opened, they were 
selected as the chief representatives of the higher 
drama to play in "Antony and Cleopatra." That 
was not a fortunate choice, bat it afforded strik- 
ing testimony to the assured position they had 
won. The day has not yet come for any delib- 
erate critical estimate of their work in collabo- 
ration. It began appropriately with "Romeo 
and Juliet," in which Miss Marlowe demonstrated 
that she had not purchased experience at the cost 
of youth or beauty. Since then they have ven- 
tured courageously upon some of the most diffi- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

cnlt tasks in the whole Shakespearean repertory. 
To say that they have always satisfied the high- 
est ideals would be foolish flattery, but they have 
provided substantial pleasure to thousands of 
Shakespeare lovers, maintained the dignity of 
the stage, and contributed object-lessons of in- 
ccQculable value to the general public. 



403 



ROBERT MANTELL, MRS. FISKE, RO 

COGHLAN, AND OTHERS 

The names of Sothern and Marlowe natl 
suggest that of Robert Mantell, a feiiow laborer 
in the field of Shakespearean drama. For more 
than thirty years he has occupied a promineDt 
position upon the American stage, but nearly tlw 
whole of his professional prime was passed in 
the West, and except to the older generation he 
was comparatively unknown in New York nntfl 
long after the period to whicli these renuiiw* 
oenees are confined. His Shakespearean perform- 
ances here have been the subject of such recent 
and plentiful comment that any particular re- 
view of him at this time would be reiterative, ao- 
perfluous, and tiresome. Wishing to be as 
honest as I can, I must confess that they have 
been to me, personally, a source of great disap- 
pointment, chiefly because of unfulfilled expecta- 
tion, but he has pleased many thousandF!, and 
has carried the banner of Shakespeare far and 
wide, to his own great credit and reward. There 
was a time when I hoped and thought that he 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THlEATER 

might prove the great tragic actor of his genera- 
tion. He came to this country in the early 
eighties from England, where he already en- 
joyed a considerable provincial reputation — and 
there were good judges in the English provinces 
in those days — on account of his youthful 'achieve- 
ments in romantic and tragic drama. Few men 
had been more liberally equipped by nature for 
characters of the heroic type. His form was tall, 
well knit, and graceful, his face expressive and 
attractive, his carriage and manner refined, and 
his voice singularly flexible, powerful, and melo- 
dious. 

He made his first appearance here in support 
of Fanny Davenport, then in her ripest beauty, 
who was making the first start in her stellar 
career as the heroine in Sardou's ** Fedora.*' The 
occasion was a notable one. A representative 
New York audience, including a host of Miss 
Davenport's friends and admirers, filled every 
seat in the house, and enthusiasm over the fair 
heroine was rampant. Every possible prepara- 
tion had been made to give her a good ''send- 
off. ' ' A good, though never a great, actress, she 
played effectively, winning plentiful and hearty 
applause, and all went well until the crucial 
scene of the discovery, between Fedora and Loris, 
in which the former was to win her crowning 

405 



SIXTY I'EARS OF THE THEATER H 

triumph. Up to this point Mr. Mantell had won 
the kiudly regard of the house by his refined, 
intelligent, and natural acting, but had neces- 
sarily remained somewhat in the backgroond. 
But at this crisis, after an impressive eadiibition 
of rising wrath held in curb, he delivered him- 
self of an outburst of scorn and passion that 
galvanized the house, and left Fedora over- 
whelmed and almost forgotten. At that moment 
he might have prevailed over Bernhardt herself. 
It was a dazzling bit of work, all the more 
effective because so utterly unlooked for. And 
that it was no mere accident, but the le^timate 
result of trained skill directed by emotional im- 
pulse, was clearly proved by his later success 
in the ' ' Dakolar, ' ' an adaptation from ' ' Le 
Maitre des Forges," by Steele Mackaye. This 
was in some respects, from the purely theatrical 
point of view, an improvement upon the original. 
That is to say, it increased and intensified the- 
atrical situations. In these Mr. Mantell proved 
himself master of strength both in repose and 
action. Some of his paroxysms of passion were 
thrilling in their truth and vigor, while in quieter 
and pathetic passages he showed himself capable 
of both dignity and tenderness. Moreover, he had 
that freedom and picturesqueness of gesture 
which are such important elements in romantic 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

acting. These qualities^ with the intelligence 
he displayed in the use of them, fully justified 
the belief that he would make his mark in poetic 
tragedy, which is but a superior development of 
romantic melodrama. Beyond question, he had 
in him the makings of a really great actor, and 
it is a pity that circumstances, in the formative 
period of his career, kept him for so many years 
from the metropolitan stage. In that long exile 
he acquired great experience and an imposing 
repertory, but grew little in artistic stature. His 
execution gained in precision and authority, but 
became mannered. His acting lost the old glow 
of inspiration. He learned to rely more and 
more upon exaggerated points — always sure of a 
round of applause from the gallery — and he 
strained his voice until it lost much of its flexi- 
bility and mellowness. 

When he first returned to the East he still re- 
tained many of his distinctive characteristics, 
and when at his best revealed himself as an 
uncommonly fine actor. In the robuster tragic 
parts — such as Lear, Macbeth, or Othello — he 
frequently created effects far beyond the reach 
of Mr. Sothem or any other living American 
actor, but these were too often the result of 
physical prowess rather than imaginative percep- 
tion, and his impersonations were apt to be of 

407 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER ^ 
very uneven merit. Borneo, a eharaeter which 
suited liim admirably, he played with suecesa 
until far advanced in middle life. He fully com- 
prehended the romance, ardor, and passion of it. 
His Hamlet, striking in spots, was, on the whole, 
conventional and uninspired. It was intelligent, 
but not intellectual or imaginative. King John, 
in which Maeready, Charles Kean, and Phelps 
were al! famous, was a sealed book to him. But 
he gave a vigorous melodramatic interpretation 
of Eichard HI, He won public acceptance also 
as Richelieu and Louis XI. It is in romantic 
action and the portrayal of the simple, direct 
emotions that his faculties have been displayed 
to best advantage, but there is no character of 
really first-rate magnitude with which his name 
is intimately associated, and althoush his profes- 
sional career has been honorable and successful 
and, perhaps in a barren period, distinguished, 
it can scarcely be defined as illustrious. 

I can not pretend to mention even the names 
of all the players more or less prominent during 
the last fifteen years of the nineteenth century. 
Some of them won popularity by their suitability 
to one type of character to which they steadily 
adhered — not being actors at all in the full sense 
of that abused word. Others profited by a pleas- 
ing personality, many more by the ingenious and 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

unscrupulous art of advertisement. These all 
belonged to the order of the third rate. It is 
only necessary now to speak particularly of a 
few of the best-known or best-qualified perform- 
ers. At the head of this latter division I should 
xmhesitatingly place Rose Coghlan, who won her 
earliest laurels as leading lady at Wallack's. 
She is one of the many good actresses graduated 
in the school of burlesque. Whether she could 
have succeeded in high tragedy is uncertain, but 
in the broad fields of comedy and melodrama she 
long ago proved herself thoroughly expert and 
capable. Her Lady Teazle was one of the best 
witnessed by this generation, and her Rosalind, 
if not ideal, was in many respects a delightful 
impersonation. 

In a brilliant performance of ** London Assur- 
ance** her Lady Gay Spanker was one of the 
most conspicuous ornaments. The exuberant 
spirit of it was altogether vital, alluring and 
spontaneous. In the ** Forge t-Me-Nof of Meri- 
vale she enacted the adventuress, not, indeed, 
with the superfine polish and keen intellectual 
edge of Genevieve Ward, but with splendid color 
and vigor. The cynical audacity and readiness 
of the woman were most boldly and skilfully de- 
noted. As Clara Douglas in Bulwer Lytton's 
** Money*' she was as languishing and sentimen- 

409 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER ^ 
tally tender as could be wished. In the ultra- 
melodramatic "Jocelyn," specially devised to 
exhibit the wide range of her talents, she played 
with a varied power of passion and pathos which 
imparted momentary substance to windy rub- 
bish. It was often her lot to be the sole attrac- 
tion of a worthless play, but she rarely failed 
to make the best use of any opportunity offered 
her. 

She gave a particularly fine performance of 
Mrs. Arbuthnot, for instance, in the clever, flashy, 
tricky "A Woman of No Importance" of Oscar 
Wilde. When the vilely mismanaged production 
of the "Ulysses" of Stephen Phillips was brought 
to the verge of instant collapse on the first night 
by the utter incapacity of nearly all concerned in 
it, she restored a mocking and impatient audience 
to interest and sobriety by the dignified poise, 
eloquence, and pathos of her Penelope. In the 
estimation of the public — the soundest of critics 
in the long run — she has always stood high. 
Whether or not she has herself been in any way 
responsible for her failure to hold constantly 
the place upon the metropolitan stage to which 
she is entitled by her ability and performance it 
is not my province to know or inquire, but she 
is a sterling actress. 

I approach the subject of Mrs. Fiske with difiB- 
410 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

dence, not that I am in any way in doubt about 
it, but because I find myself pretty nearly in the 
position of the one obstinate juror. He may 
be often, perhaps generally is, wrong, but if he 
is convinced, he can not change his verdict. So 
I shall register mine for what it is worth. The 
very essence of acting, to my mind, lies in the 
capacity of assumption and impersonation of a 
conceived character and personality different 
from that of the player. Perfect metamorpho- 
sis, in body and spirit, is an idealism very rarely, 
if ever, possible of achievement, but some actors 
have come very close to it. The Salvini of Othello 
was unrecognizable in the Salvini of Conrad. 
Phelps was one man as Henry IV, another as 
Shallow, a third as Baillie NichoU Jarvie. W. J. 
Florence could and did disguise himself com- 
pletely. Such instances might be multiplied, but 
they are exceptional. To demand or expect such 
transformations habitually would be ridiculous 
and idiotic. But in all serious acting, in every case, 
that is, where the playwright has elaborated a 
character markedly individual and peculiar in 
habit, thought, and conduct, the player, if he 
would be considered an actor, must make some 
attempt to embody and signify, so far as in him 
lies, the outsvard and inward attributes of that 
character. It often happens that the personality 

411 



SIXTY I'EAKS OP THE THEATER H 

of an actor coincides very closely and neatly with 
that of the fictitious character, and the reanlt is 
an effective and satisfactory impersonation. 

Hundreds of our players, and not a few of our 
stars, never dream of acting anybody but them- 
selves. The consequence is that the spectators get 
no definite idea of Macbeth or Benedick, but only 
learn how Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones thinks he 
would comport himself in similar circumstances. 
In other words, the player who is content to 
express every character, no matter how diverse, 
in terms of his own individual habits, ideas, and 
impulses, trusting siraply to external disguise for 
identification, is not a genuine impersonator or 
actor at all, although he may be himself an exceed- 
ingly interesting personality and uncommonly 
expert in self-illustration. In the many years 
that I have been writing about the theater this 
is one of the tests by which I have always abided 
in trying to form a just estimate of relative per- 
formances. A little reflection will show that the 
more marked are the traits in the individual per- 
sonality of the player, the more incumbent it is 
upon him to suppress them in characters to which 
they are not appropriate, especially when those 
characters have different and equally strongly 
marked traits of their own. 

One of the reasons why I have never been able 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

to join in the unqualified praise so liberally be- 
stowed upon the performances of Mrs. Fiske is 
that upon the application of this test she has failed 
to reveal any distinct evidences of genuine im- 
personation. In all her * * creations * * she has pre- 
sented her own identity without any substantial 
modification of speech, gesture, look, or manner. 
Situations, circumstances, differed, not the per- 
sonality. It may be granted unreservedly that 
that personality was uncommon, piquant, provo- 
cative, and interesting and exceedingly effective 
in parts with which it happened to be in accord- 
ance. Her bright, inquisitive, slightly aggressive, 
manner, her decisive movements and snappy ut- 
terances were admirably adapted to the light 
comedies — such as ** Featherbrain'' — ^in which 
she first won public favor. In that line her early 
work was full of promise. But her ambition, 
which was active and dauntless, inclined her to 
the more serious and emotional dramas, for 
which she had not the necessary histronic or ar- 
tistic qualifications. Her elocution was faulty and 
did not lend itself readily to emotional expres- 
sion. She could be imperious, sarcastic, fiery, 
and angry, but the deeper notes of passion she 
could not sound, and her pathos was hard and 
hollow, without the true ring. 

She made her first essay in social melodrama 

413 



SIXTY TEARS OF THE THEATER f 
in the "In Spite of All" of Steele Maekaye is 
1887, but then she was clearly out of her ele- 
ment. In 1896, when she appeared in "Cesar- 
ine,'* a version of "La Femme de Claude" of 
the younger Dumas, she had advanced greatly in 
stage knowledge and confidence, but early habits 
were hardening already into confirmed manner- 
isms. Some phases of Cesarine's character — 
those which lay on the surface — the deceitf ulness, 
callousness, and vindictiveness — to be reproduced 
later in Becky Sharp — came easily within her 
compass, but the plausibility, the passion, and the 
fascination were beyond her grasp. In "Tess of 
the D'Urbervilles," in which she had the invalu- 
able support of that fine actor Charles Coghlan, 
she found a part in which she was very success- 
ful. She had not the physical qualifications, nor 
the proper emotional power, but she played it 
with comprehensive intelligence. 

At such moments as those of her discovery of 
her husband's ignorance of her fall, and of the 
return of the supposedly dead Angel Clare, her 
simulation of dumb fear, amazement, and per- 
plexity was excellent. Her terror after the mur- 
der was overwrought. She was not at all the Tess 
of Hardy, but she gave an interesting perform- 
ance. In Magda her limitations were sharply 
defined. Apparently wishing to emphasize the 

414 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

self-confidence and intellectual freedom of the 
famous singer, she made her rude, arrogant, 
cynical, and selfish. Her contemptuous indiffer- 
ence to her old father and stepmother would 
have been impossible to an accomplished, enlight- 
ened, well-bred woman. Here was a radical mis- 
take in interpretation. Her treatment of the 
parson again was marked, not by good-tempered 
but somewhat cynical raillery, but by a down- 
right insolence wholly inconsistent with her sub- 
sequent confession. She succeeded better in her 
scene with the hypocritical Von Keller, her spir- 
ited dismissal of him from the house giving her 
an opportunity to which she was fully equal ; but 
of the deeper inner workings of Magda's soul — 
the conflicts in the heart of the woman and 
mother — she gave little or no indication. 
Throughout, the manner of Magda was the man- 
ner of Tess, of Cesarine, and of Minnie Maddem 
Fiske. 

In 1889 Mrs. Fiske, in pursuit of what it is 
still the fashion to call the new realism — as if 
realism had ever been absent from the stage — 
appeared in a one-act tenement study, by Horace 
B. Fry, called ** Little Italy.** It was a squalid 
but not unpowerful sketch of conjugal infidelity, 
in which an Italian wife, about to flee with her 
lover, is accidentally killed in an attempt to 

415 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
escape from her enraged husband, who has sur- 
prised the erring pair. It was charged with vio- 
lence and tropical passion. The performonoe 
was made worth while by the finely vigorous emo- 
tional acting of Frederic de Belleville as the out- 
raged husband. Mrs. Fiske, as the wife, was 
admirably "made up" and mimicked the manner 
of an Italian woman of the poorer classes with 
much cleverness. She gave bold and veraeions 
emphasis, also, to the amorous abandonment of 
the character. But in dealing with the elemental 
emotion.'* of the more melodramatic episodes a. J 
relapse into her habitual mannerisms de.stroyedi* 
all illusion. "What was needed then was a dash of 
the primeval passion, the gripping sincerity, vritik' 
which Duse glorified Santuzza. This she oouli 
not supply. The announcement, in 1899, of her 
approaching appearance as Becky Sharp in a 
new stage version of "Vanity Fair" excited 
much public interest. There was general expec- 
tation, in which the present writer shared, that 
the part was one into which she would fit neatly. 
This was not fulfilled to any considerable degree. 
Becky was Mrs. Fiske in new surroundings, and 
she was little more. 

The play itself, inevitably, was a travesty of 
the original, as almost every consideration had 
been sacrificed to the prominence of the inimi- 



ith! 



J 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

table little blackleg. She, at least, was preserved 
in something like her true form. But Mrs. Fiske 
could not animate it. She gave it briskness, in- 
telligence, intrepidity, volubility, and hardness — 
all the familiar characteristics of her habitual 
stage methods — ^but nothing, or barely a trace, 
of the supple hypocrisy, the mock sentiment, the 
artful coquetry, the ready guile, the sparkle, the 
fascination, the venom, and the fury which are 
conspicuous elements in the composition of this 
complex creature. On the printed page Becky 
is alive and real in every fiber, but only an ac- 
tress of consummate versatility and endless 
resource could hope to vitalize her on the stage. 
The histrionic formulas of Mrs. Fiske could ex- 
press but few of her many facets. 

Mrs. Fiske next assumed the part of Miranda 
in "Miranda of the Balcony, '^ a romantic melo- 
drama of the most extravagant type. Miranda 
was a paragon of beauty and all earthly accom- 
plishments, who, being happily rid of an unspeak- 
able husband — supposed to be immured in a 
Moorish dimgeon — orders the man whom she 
madly loves to rescue him at the peril of his 
own life. The absurdity and inconsistencies of 
the plot could only be justified by the theatrical 
value of the emotions which they occasioned. 
To the realization of these torturing and diverse 

417 



.<r' 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

emotions, Mrs. Fiske's stereotyped methods were 
wholly inadequate, but in the less exacting scenes 
she played with the intelligent intent, if restricted 
executive ability, manifest in all her work. She 
acted many parts, including some of Ibsen's, 
before and after those mentioned here, bnt pres- 
ent reference to them is unnecessary. In none 
of them did she exhibit any perceptible develop- 
ment of dramatic power or versatility. As an am- 
bitious and clever woman, with a genuine if not 
always well-directed zeal for theatrical progress, 
she has played a prominent part in contemporary 
stage history, but as an actress her achievements 
have been in no way extraordinary. 

Not all the best actors of the period of which 
I have been speaking were among the performen 
of the greatest notoriety, or those whose names 
were most frequently displayed in the poblitj 
prints. Even such a fugitive record as this would 
be incomplete without special reference to some 
of the less well-advertised luminaries. Charles 
Coghlan, of whose achievements in Charles Sur- 
face and other characters some mention has been 
made, was one of the best all-round actors of his 
generation. He was infinitely superior to any 
of the leading men of his era or of the stars of 
to-day. If he had not absolute genius he had an 
intuition which was closely akin to it, and ample 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

physical resources to illustrate his ideals. In 
poetic romance, melodrama, and artificial and 
social comedy he was without a rival, but in 
tragedy his best faculties seemed to suffer paraly- 
sis. Whether the deliberation of his method — 
the ever-present but artfully concealed design 
behind his action — or a dread of ranting acted 
as a bar to inspiration, certain it is that in trag- 
edy he could never let himself go. In his early 
days, when he was with the Bancrofts, he essayed 
a naturalistic Shylock with disastrous conse- 
quences, although the critics recognized the origi- 
nality and intellectuality of his performance. Act- 
ing here, many years later, with Mrs. Langtry, he 
essayed Macbeth, and again failed decisively. 
Yet his impersonation was full of brains and 
imagination. 

His ** make-up '* showed a pale, saturnine, 
eager face, framed in dark, short, wavy hair, a 
coimtenance in which craft was mingled with 
resolution. He made it plain that the salutations 
of the weird sisters chimed with thoughts 
already harbored in his breast, and that he was 
more affected by the coincidence than by the 
novelty of their suggestion. He was not, how- 
ever, quite ripe for murder, although the medi- 
tation of it did not greatly horrify him. The 
train of his thought prompting the soliloquy after 

419 



*j 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER ^ 
the disappearance of the witches was indicated 
with surprising skill and rare significance of 
facial expression. He was wholly suwessful in 
the encounter with Duncan and the ensuing scene 
with his wife, and was particularly effective in 
the soliloquy, "If 't were done," etc. He inter- 
preted the dagger scene in quite the right spirit 
of rapt brooding, and, though his acting after the 
murder was tame, ho delivered the ""Who can be 
wise, temperate, and amazed," etc., with notable 
ability. But after that — except at the moment 
of the appearance of Banqno's ghost — his acting 
fell off terribly, being woefully deficient in anima- 
tion, dramatic power, and emotional eloquence. 
In such plays as "The Lady of Lyons," "A 
Wife's Peril," and "Lady Clanearty" he played 
with all his old finish, intelligence, and fire, put- 
ting a complete extinguisher upon the star, Mrs. 
Langtry, whom he was supposed to be support- 
ing. Afterward he won great success in "The 
Boyal Box," his own adaptation of "Kean," in 
which he made an astonishing display of theatri- 
cal virtuosity. 
-• An actor of kindred but not quite so fine cali- 
ber is John Mason. His best work has been done 
in the twentieth century, and is too recent, there- 
fore, to be discussed here, but by pretty general 
consent he is the most capable all-round actor on 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

the American boards to-day. It is to be noted 
that he got his early training in one of the last 
great stock companies, that of the Boston Mu- 
seum. There he absorbed the experience that 
was to qualify him for every department of the 
drama — ^tragedy, artificial and modem social 
comedy, or melodrama. His individual work, 
even in inferior plays, is always notable for its 
superior artistry. Not particularly versatile, in 
the Protean sense, having a strong and self- 
assertive personality, he has a plentiful variety 
of method, while his executive skill is manifested 
alike in boldness of outline and delicacy of detail. 
He can exhibit robust forcefulness or intellectual 
subtlety. In his passionate outbursts there is the 
ring of true sincerity, and he is admirable in 
scenes of dignified gravity or pathos. In humor 
he is not exuberant, but his appreciation of it is 
keen, and his interpretation of it, especially in 
the vein of irony, facile, sure, and effective. 
With actual genius, perhaps, he has not been 
endowed. It may be doubted whether he could 
successfully embody the greatest tragic creations 
of poetic fancy, but he possesses the clear intelli- 
gence and the finished craftsmanship which are 
excellent substitutes for inspiration and often 
much more trustworthy. 



421 



THE KENDALS, HENRIETTA CHOSMAN, AM) 
MARGARET ANGLIN 
Henkietta Crosman is an actress who is eoti' 
tied to more general critical and popular appro- 
elation than she has obtained. She is an 
exceedingly bright and capable performer, of 
considerable range and much technical expert- 
ness. Spontaneous vivacity is one of the po- 
tent charms in her various embodiments. Her 
Nell Gwynn, in one of the wildest plays ever con- 
cocted, will long be remembered for its variety, 
its animation, its delightful deviltry, and its gen- 
eral fascination. It was the work of an actress 
versed in every trick of her trade. Bat her 
greatest artistic achievement was her Rosalind, 
which I have always considered one of the most 
satisfying expositions of the character I have 
seen. It had not the dainty refinement and poetic 
grace of Modjeska's, but it was wonderfully 
alive and illusive. If the humor of it was a trifle 
too brusque and modern — just a little out of har- 
mony with the romantic atmosphere — it was at 
ail events delightfully real and human, withont 
the least tinge of coarseness. And the imper- 
422 



J 



SrXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

sonation lacked no element of feminine charm. 
If not superlatively dainty and imaginative, it 
was graceful and eminently attractive. The dash 
of coquetry in the scenes with Orlando was tem- 
pered by very pretty, maidenly, and genuine sen- 
timent. The mannishness was always girlish. 
The few emotional notes were full and rich, and 
the text was admirably spoken. 

It has been suggested — not quite justly, I think 
— that Miss Crosman owed much of her success 
to the experience she gained when she acted 
Gelia to the Rosalind of Ada Rehan. If so, she 
greatly bettered her instruction. Her delivery 
of the lines was infinitely more varied in intona- 
tion and point, and all her ** business *' much 
more suggestive of spontaneous impulse. The 
illusion she created was manifested in the in- 
stant and hearty response of her audience. It 
was a first-rate performance. 

Margaret Anglin is an actress of whom much 
may yet be expected, but who has not yet fully 
redeemed the promise of her novitiate. She has, 
beyond question, rare gifts of emotional expres- 
sion, a special aptitude for refined comedy, an 
attractive presence, and the charm of an intelli- 
gent and cultivated woman. She has done some 
exceedingly powerful and impressive work, but 
any present attempt to define her full capacity 

423 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
would be premature. Her essays in poetic com- 
edy and romance have been only moderately suc- 
cessful, and it is doubtftil whether she could 
reach the heights or depths of tragedy. The 
probability is that her true sphere lies within 
the extensive domain of social comedy. The posi- 
tion of Maude Adams upon the stage is unique. 
Few actresses of any time have achieved such 
wide popularity with the aid of so limited dra- 
matic capital. For years she has enjoyed pre- 
eminence among contemporary stars. She owes 
this partly to the arts of management, partly 
to the skill with which she employs the resources 
at her command, but chiefly to the ingratiating 
power of an uncommon and fascinating person- 
ality. She made her first great hit twenty years 
ago by her tactful, humorous, and inoffensive in- 
terpretation of a scene of semi-intoxication. 
Since then she has advanced rapidly in stardom, 
but very little, if at all, in dramatic art, except 
in the matter of technique. It is impossible to 
describe in words the spell exerted by her man- 
ner — half-pert, half-timid, and wholly sympa- 
thetic — or her piquant features. She is fragile, 
alert, timorous, audacious, quaint, quizzical, ten- 
der, waspish. She has an impish humor, at once 
sparkling and dry; a vein of pathos — somewhat 
shallow — temper, and girlish freshness. 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

There is an air about her of sweetness and 
innocence. She can be joyous, arch, petulant, 
provocative, indignant, but not passionate. Over 
the deeper emotions she has no control, and 
for all her moods she has but one mode of expres- 
sion. It follows that her personality is complex, 
but not versatile. She repeats herself charmingly, 
but incessantly. What she was in **The Little 
Minister'' she has been virtually in all her other 
parts. She expresses all personalities in terms 
of her own, and therefore is not an inter- 
preter, but, even in parts with which she has 
no affinity, she is not monotonous. Cast in char- 
acters so absolutely without her range, as Juliet 
and Chantider, she excited the feeling of com- 
passion rather than ridicule. Clearly she was 
doomed, by cold speculation, to cope with the 
impossible. It was in the whimsical, delicate, 
suggestive creations of Barrie that she found her 
golden opportunity. 

Of the various English actors who visited this 
coimtry as stars during the closing years of the 
nineteenth century, Henry Irving was by far 
the most famous and significant. Moreover, he 
was for so long closely identified with the Ameri- 
can stage that he might almost be said to have 
belonged to it. For both reasons, considerable 
space has been devoted to his representations, 

425 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

most of which, in themselves, had intrinsic lite^ 
aiy and dramatic importance. It will not be 
necessary to dwell minntely upon any of the 
others. The first of them, chronologically, was 
AVilson Barrett, who already is almost forgotten. 
He was a shrewd and clever showman, made a 
great splurge and much money, but as an actor 
never rose above the second class. He depended 
chiefly upon sensationalism, spectacle, sentimeo- 
taliam, and advertisement, and he played his 
cards very well. In "The Silver King" he had 
a really good melodrama — highly improbable, of 
course, but well knit, ingenious, continuously ex- 
citing, and full of adroitly calculated snspense— 
and embodied the hero with no little picturesque- 
ness and force, though he was easily excelled in 
the part by Osmund Tearle, a player of no special 
distinction. "The Sign of the Cross,*' which 
made his fortune, was gorgeous melodramatic 
spectacle, seasoned with sentimental claptrap 
devoid of all sincerity. 

At first, after contemptuous press notices, it 
was threatened with instant collapse, whereupon 
he issued invitations and free passes to religious 
ministers of all denominations, many of whom 
rhapsodized, in their pulpits, over the moral 
lesson which they discovered in it. The experi- 
ment proved one of the most successful advertis- 



i 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ing schemes on record — ^it has been tried more 
than once since then with less satisfactory re- 
turns — and the piece was played to full houses 
for many hundred nights. In ^'Claudian/' con- 
structed upon similar principles, he reaped fur- 
ther profit and notoriety. In both pieces he gave 
a workmanlike, agreeable, but entirely undistin- 
guished performance. In **The Manxman '' and 
* * Ben-my-Chree ' ' he did nothing more remark- 
able. He exhibited repose, passion, and pathos, 
but not in any degree beyond the reach of any 
ordinarily experienced and capable actor. It was 
in ** Hamlet*' that the fullest exposure was made 
of his dramatic and artistic insignificance. A 
more utterly prosaic, laborious, and trivial inter- 
pretation of the character was never seen. The 
lack of comprehension displayed in it was almost 
shocking. The reflective, melancholy ** sweet 
prince *' posed, gesticulated, and ranted like the 
hero of a modem melodrama, whose one anxiety 
was to keep himself in the middle of the lime- 
light. It is pleasant to be able to add that the 
presumptuous travesty found no general accep- 
tance either with the critics or the public. 

Mr. and Mrs. Kendal, who made their first 
appearance here in 1889, were accomplished ar- 
tists of very different caliber. Nearly fifty years 
have slipped away since I first saw them on the 

427 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATKH ^ 
stage. She — Madge Robertson then — was a fresh 
young beauty, scarcely out of her teens, and was 
playing at the Loudon Haymarket Theater, as 
leading lady to E. A. Sothem, in "The Eomance 
of a Poor Young Man." Already she was recog- 
nized as one of the rising actresses of the day. In a 
few years she had gained the position, which she 
thereafter held, of leading actress on the English 
comedy stage. W. S. Kendal, in the late sixties, 
was noted for nothing but his good looks. In face 
and figure he was ornamental, and, therefore, 
in request for small parts, but as an actor — it 
can do no harm to say so now — he was a terri- 
ble stick For years after his marriage he was 
completely overshadowed by his brilliant wife, 
but improved steadily and finally shared histri- 
onic honors with her pretty equally. In some 
respects, I think, he came to be the finer artist 
of the two. He was the less "mannered" and 
self-conscious, andj in the end, more versatile, 
but in moments of violent emotion or deep pathos 
she could sound a deeper and fuller note than 
he. In scenes of comedy they were exceedingly 
well matched. Both had finesse, authority, suffi- 
cient emotional force for all but the most exact- 
ing situations, and a most agreeable suavity and 
ease of manner. They were, in brief, sound 
actors and exceedingly well-trained artists, inca- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

pable of the grosser expedients, which command 
the applause of the imcultivated crowd, but are 
equally offensive to nature and good taste. 
Neither of them ever exhibited any proof of im- 
aginative genius. They did not excel in plays 
demanding a dash of romantic coloring. They 
belonged to the realistic school in experience and 
capacity, and were seen at their best in plays 
which may be grouped under the head of supe- 
rior domestic melodrama. 

They were not particularly fortunate in the 
selection which they made for their first appear- 
ance in this city. This was * ' A Scrap of Paper, ' ' 
in which their somewhat prosaic style was 
brought into direct contrast with one much more 
highly colored and imaginative. Virtually the 
play was identical with that given at Wallack^s, 
except for a change of names and localities from 
French to English. It may be admitted readily 
that, from the English point of view, the Ken- 
dal representation was right in tone and spirit, 
but it was, in almost every way, much less bril- 
liant and effective. Between the Prosper Coura- 
mont of Lester Wallack and the Col. Blake of 
Mr. Kendal there was an immense gulf. Mr. 
Wallack sinned, doubtless, in the matter of self- 
consciousness, from which Mr. Kendal was en- 
tirely free, but in his superb repose, perfect non- 
429 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 1 

chalance, and artfully measured speech and ges- I 
ture, which gave effect to every shade of meaning | 
in the dialogue and made repartee flash like light- 1 
ning, he suggested instantly the man of resolu- 
tion and resource masquerading as a trifler, and 
offered a guaranty of the truth of his tales of 
travel and adventure. 

Mr. Kendal revealed none of that fine and 
nimble quality which distinguishes light and 
sparkling from the tamer, if more realistic, com- 
edy. His Col. Blake had no halo of romance, 
no flavor of cosmopolitan experience. He was 
not even military, but just a jovial, sturdy, every- 
day Englislmian of the clubs and moors. But 
he was easy, natural, refined, and manly, and 
conveyed the impression of a rock-bottomed sin- 
cerity. In his duel of wits with Susan Hartley 
(Susanne) his delivery of the dialogue in respect 
of humor and emphasis, could not be compared 
with that of Wallack, and in receiving the chal- 
lenge from the jealous boy his air of good- 
natured ridicule, if it had the merit of being 
natural in the case of one so much the bigger and 
stronger of the two, was not nearly as effective 
as the magnificent condescension of the American 
actor. Nor was the Susan of Mrs. Kendal as 
brilliant as that of Rose Coghlan. It never 
quite reached the height of hysterical emotion, 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

with its wonderful blend of tears and laughter, 
attained by the latter in her scene with the infuri- 
ated husband, but it was richer in purely femi- 
nine attributes. The womanliness of it was very 
real. And the archness of Mrs. Kendal was as 
delightful as her tenderness was unaffected. In 
her great scene with the jealous husband, if she 
fell just short of Miss Coghlan's remarkable 
effort, she exhibited genuine feeling and notable 
artistic probity. 

The skill with which she denoted her sense of 
the humor of the situation, amid the whirl of con- 
flicting emotions, was of a very high order. Her 
cajolery was a striking illustration of the wiles at 
a pretty woman's command, and her final confes- 
sion of love was uttered with a fragmentary and 
breathless volubility altogether natural. The whole 
performance was eminently capable. E. M. Dodson 
furnished a remarkable character study of the old 
naturalist — a beautifully finished sketch. Mr. 
Wenman was most efficient as the jealous hus- 
band, and Violet Vanbrugh played the suspected 
wife very prettily and well. 

In **The Iron Master' ' the Kendals came into 
their own. This, it will be remembered, was an 
adaptation, and an uncommonly skilful one, by 
A. W. Pinero, from *'Le Maitre de Forges'' of 
Georges Ohnet, which in some respects was supe- 

431 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

rior to the origiual. The story ia too well km 
to need analysis. Mrs. Kenda! comprehm 
the part of the heroine perfectly and playaj 
with a most sympathetic sincerity. In the tr] 
scene in which her worthless lover's perfij; 
explained to her with every refinement of ! 
nine malice, she portrayed the struggle boti 
wounded love and natural pride with rare ' 
ccption, truthfulness, and histrionic skill. There 
was poignant anguish in every motion of ber 
swaying figure and in the lines of her tortured 
face, and her resolute rally from a tbruateni'd 
faint was an eloquent illustration of high niorai 
courage vanquishing physical weakness. But her 
recovery was somewhat too sudden and complete. 
In the second act, after the midnight marriage^ 
her outburst of remorse and despair lacked the 
true throb and thrill, being only shrill and loud. 
Her acting in the ensuing scene with her hus- 
band was very clever. Shame, terror, aversion, 
were all expressed in her attitude of strained and 
dazed expectancy. Her half-involuntary shrink- 
ing from his proflfered embrace, her increasing 
humiliation, and her final desperate admission 
of the truth of Ms suspicion that she still loved 
the man who had abandoned her, were all well 
conceived and executed, and finely consistent. La 
the third act her growing love and admiration 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

for her husband were denoted by acting of very- 
high and sympathetic quality. 

But the real triumph of this representation was 
won by Mr. Kendal, of whom little was expected, 
and who demonstrated himself a most sterling 
artist. The gentleness and simple courtesy with 
which he treated his unwilling bride in the second 
act denoted keen artistic intuition, being thor- 
oughly consonant with the ascribed character of 
the ironmaster, and he depicted the slow awak- 
ening of suspicion in his mind with a delicacy of 
gradation possible only to a thoughtful and thor- 
oughly accomplished actor. When the whole 
truth was forced upon him, he rose to a pitch 
of mingled sorrow, wrath, and indignation posi- 
tively startling in an actor from whom nothing 
of the sort was looked for, and reached it, more- 
over, without the least suggestion of rant or 
overstrain, or any loss of personal dignity; and, 
having attained to this high level, he never sank 
below it. Throughout the ensuing act he main- 
tained toward his wife a kindly, polished dignity 
which could scarcely have been improved upon, 
continuing, meanwhile, with admirable subtlety, 
to suggest the love which still possessed him. In 
the episode of the necklace there was a pathos 
in his smothered emotion which few comedians 
could hope to emulate, and in the meeting with 

433 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

liis wife, before the duel, he carried off tlie chief 
honors of the scene. He eclipsed all other per- 
formances of the character in this city either in 
French or English. 

A detailed description of all the parts played 
hy the Kendals in this city would involve ranch 
tedious and useless repetition. Most of them dif- 
fered in detail rather than in type, and the exe- 
cution of the players, while proving the adapt- 
ability of their art to varying cireumstances, 
made no revelation of unsuspected capacities. 
"The Ironmaster" brought out the best that was 
in them. That play established for them a repu- 
tation which they did nothing to lessen or greatly 
increase. In "The Squire" of Pinero Mr, Ken- 
dal had little to do, but did that little excellently, 
while Mrs. Kendal, as the heroine, presented a 
fine type of frank, generous, devoted, pure, and 
self-reliant womanhood, full of feeling, hot en- 
tirely free from mawkish sentiment. As a whole 
her embodiment was charming and able, but there 
were spots where her powers of emotional utter- 
ance were not able to meet fully all the demands 
made upon them. One of these occurred in the 
scene where she was supposed to be overwhelmed 
by the news of Eric Thomdyke's first marriage. 

Here she exhibited too much consciousness of 
the possibilities of mere theatrical device, too 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

mncli solicitude for the pictorial correctness of 
her pose. The swaying of her body was unduly 
prolonged, and her gestures generally too delib- 
erate. But these flaws would not have been no- 
ticeable in a less meritorious achievement. She 
was less severely tried in *'The Weaker Sex'' 
of Pinero, and consequently more completely suc- 
cessful. Here the story, as may be remembered, 
is of a woman who married unhappily for money 
— ^after jilting a poorer lover for that purpose — 
and afterward, as a widow, rediscovers her first 
and only love, only to find him betrothed to her 
own daughter. It is a tricky and improbable 
plot, but smartly written, with some lively satire 
on the sex question and a variety of telling situa- 
tions. Her impersonation was exceptional on 
account of its physical beauty, its refinement of 
manner — a manifestation not too common among 
aristocratic stage heroines — its elaborate artistic 
finish, and its exquisite feeling. She was particu- 
larly tactful and natural in the delineation of 
the complex emotions incidental to her encounter 
with her old lover, and her later scenes with her 
daughter were full of genuine maternal and 
womanly pathos. Her acting was not supremely 
eloquent, but it was very human, touching, and 
skilful. A less accomplished actor than Mr. Ken- 
dal would have made the lover either mawkish or 

435 



SIXT\- YEARS OF THE THEATER 
priggish, but he avoided both dangers, and won 
respect and sympathy for an ungrateful part. 

In Godfrey's "The Queen's Shilling" — long 
familiar in this country, in slightly different 
form, as "The Lancers," Mrs. Kendal had a 
part which is a compound of Lady Gay Spanter 
and Miss Hardcastle. Neither phase of it pre- 
sented any difficulty to her. Her breezy spirit, 
her coquetry, and her sincere womanliness were 
all delightful. But the chief acting honors moat 
be awarded to Mr. Kendal. His character of the 
hero was not arduous, but I can think of no 
comedian — except possibly Charles Coghlan — wbo 
could have played it with a manliness so on- 
affected, a manner so refined and easy, or a fer- 
vor 80 spontaneous. Neither Lester Wallaci 
nor E, A. Sothern. in their best estate, could have 
conducted the flirtation scene at the piano with 
so graceful an audacity as he, or have imparted 
such reality as he did to the episode in which 
he and the heroine mutually sought to entrap 
each other into a confession. 

In the drunken scene, again, where the Colonel 
strives to convict him by grasping his wounded 
arm, he played with startlingly effective real- 
ism. In "Impulse," a play of little consequence, 
Mr. and Mrs. Kendal once more challenged com- 
parison with Lester Wallaek and Eose Coghlan, 
436 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

this time certainly not to their own disadvantage, 
but in ** All for Her/^ KendaPs Hugh Trevor, 
good as it was as a consistent and artistic study, 
had not the romantic glamor with which Wal- 
lack invested that copy of poor Sydney Carton, 

Of the ** Elder Miss Blossom'' it need only be 
said that it was a very foolish play, written with 
the sole purpose of displaying Mrs. Kendal's 
executive abilities. This, in a way, it did, and 
she availed herself of the opportunities af- 
forded with her accustomed cleverness, but was 
Been in no new light. One of their interesting 
experiments was a revival of Tom Taylor's old 
comedy, "Still Water Runs Deep," which, con- 
ventionally theatrical as it is, is nevertheless an 
effective acting play. Kendal, of course, made 
of Mildmay a fine example of the siuiviter in 
modo et fortiter in re, and Mrs. Kendal was an 
excellent Mrs. Stemhold, but the representation 
is chiefly worthy of remembrance on account of 
the Potter of J. M. Dodson, a master study of 
a garrulous, selfish, cunning, shrew-ridden old 
man. Taken all in all, the performances of the 
Kendals must be ranked among the best repre- 
sentations of their kind seen in this country 
during the last fifty years. 



437 



HERBERT BEERBOHM TREE 

Hbebbrt Beerbohm Tree — Sir Herbert Tree as 
lie is now— has played a very prominent part in 
the history of the English-speaking stage during 
the last thirty years, and has achieved a wide 
popularity, but has never done anything of seri- 
ous dramatic importance. A very clever man, an 
ambitious, artistic, and extraordinarily adroit 
manager, and an accomplished performer, thor- 
oughly expert in all the tricks of his trade, he has 
never established his right to a place in the ranks 
of great actors. He has come to the front in an 
era of the second rate. Although by the force of 
circumstances, and of his own tact and energy, he 
has, as the leading actor-manager in Great Brit- 
ain, succeeded temporarily to the position occu- 
pied by Henry Irving, he can not for an instant 
be classed in the same category with that remark- 
able actor and man. In some respects he might 
be compared with Charles Kean. 

To players of such caliber as Samuel Phelps, 
Edwin Booth, E. L. Davenport, or Lawrence Bar- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

rett, he is immeasurably inferior. A good actor 
—within certain well-defined lines— he undoubt- 
edly is, but beyond them he has never displayed 
more than ordinary ability. In the great classic 
characters, in many of which he has appeared by 
virtue of his prerogative, he has proved deficient 
in eloquence, power, and imagination. But in 
the splendor of his professional accoutrements, 
beauty of scenery, richness of costume, and spec- 
tacular groupings, he has excelled all his contem- 
poraries. That he is versatile is true. His tal- 
ents are of the inconspicuous kind that may be 
adapted readily to meet a great variety of condi- 
tions, but not conditions of the most exacting 
kind. They are impotent to aid him in charac- 
ters whose attributes — ^humorous, imaginative, or 
emotional — transcend the ordinary. The mimetic 
faculty in him is strongly developed, but between 
mimicry and dramatic expression there is very 
little in common. 

It was in January, 1895, that he made his first 
appearance in this city, playing two characters, 
Gringoire, the half-starved poet in Theodore de 
Banville's little drama, and Demetrius, the police 
spy, in Outram Tristram's Russian melodrama, 
* * The Red Lamp. ' ' In the one case he was called 
upon to depict haggard, ragged youth, in the 
other bloated age, and in both, so far as the 

439 



SIXTY YEAltS OF THE THEATER 

physical representation was concerned, he ene- 
ceeded perfectly. Gringoire had already been 
played here by Coquelin and Lawrence Barrett 
The great French comedian portrayed it with 
minute and realistic finish, and with infimtc 
humor and tenderness, if very little pathos. Law- 
rence Barrett imparted to it the earnestness and 
some of the glow of a romantic passion. 

Tree's impersonation lacked the humor and 
naturalness of the one and the fire of the other. 
It appealed to the eye constantly, to the under- 
standing occasionally, to the heart but rarely. 
The long, lean figure of the actor was well suited 
to the part of the famished hedge poet, and he 
made its outlines almost spectral by the elabora- 
tion of his rags and tatters. He somehow sug- 
gested the memory of Barnaby Rudge. The 
whole effect was theatrical, an impression height- 
ened by the studied extravagance of almost every 
gesture and motion. The mechanical execatlon 
was deft and sure, but in this scarecrow there 
was neither heart nor poetry. 

As the elderly Demetrius, he presented an 
amazing metamorphosis. With his false head, 
padded body, and red face, covered with liquorish 
blotches, he was totally unrecognizable, and he 
deepened the contrast by discarding all the un- 
natural exuberance of Gringoire's gesture and 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

coxmterfeitiiig the slnggishness of age. This was 
snflSciently easy. The actual personality of 
Demetrius, as presented, was an obvious absurd- 
ity. A spy, who should aggressively and rudely 
thrust his nose, his eyes, and ears into everybody 
else^s business, advertising his trade, as it were, 
in the biggest sort of display type, would not 
be worth his salt to the Russian or any other 
Government. A more serious objection is that 
the figure, supposed to be fraught with such evil 
potentiality, conveyed no sense of formidableness 
or menace. It was comic and insignificant. As 
in the case of Gringoire, the true dramatic im- 
pulse was lacking. 

In Sidney Grundy's **A Bunch of Violets, '* a 
free adaptation from the **Montjoye'* of Octave 
Feuillet, Mr. Tree played virtually the part made 
memorable by Charles Coghlan at the Union 
Square Theater. The latter gave an almost ideal 
interpretation of a character — unnatural in itself 
— ^in which power of will and intellect is devoted 
unscrupulously to the attainment of base ends, 
in defiance of the humaner emotions. In this 
embodiment, deprived of the aids of disguise and 
mimicry, Mr. Tree did good, but not extraor- 
dinary, work. He was more demonstrative, more 
showily theatrical, than Coghlan, but he had not 
his superfine polish, his skill in the subtle denote- 

441 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

ment of internal conflict raging beneath resolntely 
maintained impassivity, or his air of dominant 
authority. He showed great skill, however, in 
showing the workings of a crafty mind of a dis- 
tinctly inferior order, and he was impressive, 
though not thrilling, in the passions of defeat In 
the scene where he was unexpectedly confronted 
in his own drawing-room by the woman whom he 
had discarded long years before, his acting was 
ezoeedingly dever, good in bypUy and expn^ 
Bion, and free from exaggeration. Ajid his eao- 
tion, on the subsequent collapse of his intrignea, 
had some genuine ring in it, but it was not sug- 
gestive of the convulsion that should accompany 
the defeat of so resolute and imperious a spirit, 
Mrs. Tree played the malicious adventuress with 
much vivacity, humor, and incisiveness. As the 
hero of "Captain Swift," Mr. Tree indicated 
very adroitly the anxieties of conscious guilt and 
the impulses of a lawless nature disguised by a 
veneer of civilization, but the romantic side of 
the character, with its essential virility, its pic- 
turesque audacity, promptitude, and vigor, was 
more vividly illustrated by Maurice Barrymore, 
who had not a tithe of his stage cunning. 

The limitations of his histrionic capacity were 
sharply emphasized when he tried to play Fal- 
staff in "The Merry Wives of Windsor." The 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

impersonation has often been cited in evidence 
of his versatility, but actually it proved nothing 
but his resourcefulness in the art of *' make-up/* 
Even his face, with its high coloring, false nose, 
false cheeks, false chin, and false brow, was 
transformed beyond all possibility of recognition.* 
But it is one thing to construct a model and an- 
other to endow it with life. It is in the second 
process that the true versatility lies. He sub- 
jected himself, of course, to a tremendous handi- 
cap in virtually denying himself all possibility 
of facial play. This was especially serious in 
the case of an actor whose voice was thin and in- 
flexible. He made heroic efforts to produce the 
mellow and sonorous bass which naturally would 
be expected to issue from a bulk so portentous, 
but these were not very successful. Had he used 
his voice naturally, and trusted to expression 
rather than sound, it is probable that he could 
have come much nearer to illusion. The obvious 
and fatal fault of the impersonation was its per- 
vading artificiality. It was wholly devoid of spon- 
taneous humor, although it evinced ample sense 
of comic situation. Even the fatness of it was 
unconvincing, except when in repose. It was con- 
stantly too nimble in movement and too prodigal 
of gesture, exhibiting an activity altogether incon- 

♦ This make*ap was wisely modified in later yean. 

443 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
Bistent with its apparent unwieldiness. All tie 
humor of it resided in extravagant pantomime. 
Of course, the Falstaff of "The Merry Wives" 
is not the rich mine afforded by the inimitable 
Fat Jack of "Henry IV," but there ia a vast 
abundance of comic stuff in him for the actor 
who can enter into his spirit. Mr. Tree's Falstaff 
was bulk without substance. But if his Falstaff 
wa3 dull and amateurish, what must be said of 
his Hamlet T I do not remember seeing any seri- 
ous representation of this character — with the 
possible exception of Wilson Barrett's — in which 
the inner beauties and significance of this mar- 
velous creation, the qualities that appeal to heart 
and brain, were so utterly disregarded for the 
sake of superficial, conventional, and melodra- 
matic expedients. From beginning to end, from 
"a little more than kin" to "the rest is silence," 
the one prominent characteristic was the relent- 
less pursuit and capture of every traditional the- 
atrical "point" and the execution of it in the 
most public manner possible. A score of illus- 
trations might be given. Among them were his 
restless and perpetual use of the portrait about 
his neck, his frantic scribbling in his tablets, hia 
constant flourishing of his sword, the rapid 
alternations of fortissimo and pianissimo in his 
speech, his employment of musical chords at the 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

supreme moment of the Ghost's declaration of 
the murder, his violence to Ophelia, his most un- 
princely rudeness to Polonius and others, and his 
antics during the play scene. The whole per- 
formance was shallow, imperceptive, fussy, un- 
poetic, and melodramatic. Rarely has the sweet 
and melancholy Prince been so unfeelingly man- 
handled. 

Beerbohm Tree gave one of his most satisfac- 
tory performances in * * An Enemy of the People. * ' 
The fact is somewhat significant. No first-class 
actor has ever been permanently attracted by 
Ibsen, no experienced and fairly competent player 
of the second class has ever completely failed in 
him. This is because — in his social drama at all 
events — ^he deals essentially with the common- 
place, even when, as in '^Hedda Gabler,** for 
instance, he is freakish. He does not deal with 
the nobler emotions or give any scope for the 
exercise of soaring imagination. In other words, 
he is comparatively easy to act, and that is one 
reason why he has found favor in the eyes of 
many players of moderate ability. **An Enemy 
of the People, '* although the philosophy of it is 
too old and trite to be particularly precious, is a 
good, wholesome play, containing faithful copies 
of familiar types, and illustrating a melancholy 
truth with forcible satire. For the most part, Mr. 

445 




SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

Tree played the philanthropic, enthusiastic, hon- 
est, and disillusioned Stockman exceedingly well. 
In all externals, in make-up, dress, and earefnlly 
considered details of action and gesture, he was 
admirable. The zeal, the impetuosity, the inno- 
cence, and the unconscious vanity of the man 
were indicated with keen intelligence and artis- 
tic nicety, but at the crucial moments, when indig- 
nation and scorn ought to blaze out of him, there 
was no heat in the noisy passion. "With all the 
agitation on the surface there was no suggestion 
of upheaval from the depths. 

In "Trilby" he found in Svengwli a character 
after his own heart, eccentric, colorful, extrava- 
gant, melodramatic. Wilton Lackaye's study of 
the hypnotist, theatrically effective as it undoaht- 
edly was, and is, in its bold outlines and lurid 
coloring, seemed but a clumsy bit of work in 
comparison with this subtler, truer, more finely 
finished and thoroughly consistent impersona- 
tion, which from first to last was strikingly sug- 
gestive of the "dirty spider" to which Trilby 
compared him. The effect of his "make-up" was 
intensified by the length of his lean figure. The 
swift, noiseless, catlike movements, watchful eyes, 
and ghastly face, incessant restlessness, and the 
curiously skilful blend of fawning and arrogance, 
contributed to an abnormal, but not wholly in- 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

credible, individuality which will long live in the 
memory. The egotism, meanness, cynical selfish- 
ness, and innate ferocity of the creature were 
vividly exposed; but in all its viciousness and 
degradation — and herein lay the special excel- 
lence of the portrayal — there was the constant 
intimation of the artistic sense, the love of music 
for its own sake as well as its rewards, which 
was the villain's one redeeming grace. In this 
fantastic creation Mr. Tree came nearer to the 
establishment of perfect illusion than ever before. 
It was a wonderful performance of its kind, but 
it should be noted that it involved no manifesta- 
tion of the higher kind of emotional eloquence, 
nor the embodiment of any great ideal. As an 
eccentric comedian, Mr. Tree has few if any 
rivals, but the great masterpieces of tragedy and 
comedy — Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Lear, and Sir 
Peter Teazle — lie far beyond his artistic reach. 



447 



-^ 




■ - -■ ^ 



JOHNSTON FORBES-ROBERTSON, E. S. Wllr 
LARD, JOHN HARE, AND OTHERS 

Johnston Fobbes-Bobebtson belongs to 
twentieth rather than the nineteenth century, 
may not be passed over in silence. He is aiL;|i 
accomplished artist rather than a great actov^^ 

Intellectuality, refinement, a winning 
and a beautiful delivery are his great 
Pathos, not very deep, but true, he has, aaft 
humor, and much technical skill and imagis^ «" 
tion, but not tragic power in any considendfli- ^^^. 
degree. Nature endowed him with a fine, ezprei^ 
sive face and a rare voice — rich, vibrant, mellow, 
flexible — and in tlie use of it he took Phelps as 
his model. He could have found no better. To- 
day liis utterance is the clearest, the most preg- 
nant, the most varied, and the most mellifluous 
upon the sta.ii^e. Tie lias the scholarship and taste 
that impart clarity, crispness, point, and tone to 
diction. Herein lies his supreme excellence as an 
artist. Tn his youth he was in much request to 
])lay the heroes of juvenile romance and acquired 
much valuable experience. In them he was ele- 

448 



3IXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

gant, eloquent, correct, and sympathetic; but re- 
vealed no great dramatic power. Nor has he 
since. He can be dignified, impressive, or intense, 
but not volcanic or thrilling. Orlando he played 
excellently, and Bomeo also, in the earlier scenes, 
with ardor, grace, and virility, but in the tragic 
parts he was labored and ineffectual. 

His one great achievement in Shakespearean 
tragedy — the only great character, indeed, upon 
which he set his seal — ^was his Hamlet. That was 
an exquisite, profoundly interesting, intellectual, 
and distinctive bit of work, in many ways incom- 
parably the best of recent years. Upon it his 
fame as an actor will mainly depend. Person- 
^Uy> greatly as I enjoyed and admired it, and 
grateful as I was for it, I have always thought 
that it held more of Forbes-Robertson than of 
the true Hamlet. Charles Fechter, in his prime, 
got nearer to my ideal of the Prince than any 
other actor I have ever seen in the part. His 
was an emotional rather than a mental study and 
made the Dane more human and actual, a lover 
as well as courtier, soldier, and philosopher. 
But, of course, he could not speak the lines with 
the consummate linguistic art of Robertson, per- 
fectly as he comprehended them. Next to Fech- 
ter 's Hamlet I place Booth's, which had emotion 
as well as intellect, and third Robertson's, in 

449 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

which the heart was always much less active than 
the brains. 

E. S. Willard, a fine actor, of far wider emo- 
tional range than Forbes-Eobertson, though of 
less pronounced intellectuality, failed badly in 
Hamlet. His aim apparently was to present him 
in the naturalistic terms which he had employed 
with such triumphant results in the modern prose 
drama. His Prince, as might have been expected, 
was without glamor, romance, melancholy, phil- 
osophy, or dignity, neither prince uor soldier, 
scholar nor lover but a youth of common melo- 
dramatic mold despondent or robustious by 
turns, but never impressive. It was a great dis- 
appointment, for Mr. Willard — all too soon re- 
tired — was a versatile player of rare ability and 
power. His portrayal of the old potter, Cyras 
Blenkarn, in "The Middleman" of Henry Arthur 
Jones, at once put him in the front rank of emo- 
tional actors. His exhibition of delirious exulta- 
tion over the discovery that insured him wealth 
and the means to gratify his revenge upon the 
wrecker of his happiness and betrayer of his 
daughter was realistic in the highest degree. 

The Judah of the same author demonstrated 
his great versatility. A wider contrast could 
scarcely be presented than that between old Blen- 
karn and the fanatical young clergyman led by 
450 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

love into a betrayal of his conscience. This lat- 
ter embodiment, if less theatrically effective than 
the other, was infinitely more subtle and on a 
higher plane of art. The actor, with great clever- 
ness, succeeded in reflecting the inner nature of 
the entranced lover, the simple fervor of his 
faith, his inclination toward the supernatural, 
and his indulgence in ecstatic dreams, half poetic, 
half devout. When he ascribed the power of his 
oratory to the stedfastness of his faith he spoke 
with an illumination that carried the conviction 
of absolute sincerity. In the later scenes of anx- 
iety, remorse, and confession, he acted with that 
simple realism which can be produced only by 
the most artful means. In '^John Needham's 
Double, ^^ a bit of sheer melodrama, he gave fur- 
ther proof of his versatility by the consistency 
md ease with which he maintained a double per- 
sonality, one open-hearted, frank, and generous, 
the other crafty, cruel and, in the end, bloody 
md desperate. It was in marking the gradual 
3rogres8 from bad to worse of the criminal that 
le showed the discrimination of the artist. His 
performance was many times better than the 
>lay. 

But it was in **The Professor *s Love Story,** 
perhaps, that he made the most popular hit of 
lis American career. This was one of the many 

451 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 1 

notable eases in wliich public taeste was abnit- 1 
dantly vindicated. The play itself, dramaticaliy 
considered, was of small account, with a loose, 
fragile, and often extravagant story. Many of 
the characters, to be frank, were dnll and un- 
natural, bnt others, including that of the central 
figure, were invested with all that tender, dainty, 
whimsical imagination and sympathetic charm 
characteristic of the genius of Barrie at his best. 
But the success won was due, primarily and em- 
phatically, to the acting of Mr. Willard as Prof. 
Goodwillie. The impersonation, like all the 
others presented here by this fine player, was a 
consistent study of character from beginning to 
end, with a strongly marked individuality, signi- 
fied by a pure histriouism almost completely 
independent of the tricks of the theatrical 
dresser. The face was not disguised at all, and 
there was no eccentric peculiarity of costume to 
conceal poverty of artistic resource. The quick 
and eloquent play of feature, always a special 
feature of this actor's work, proved of inesti- 
mable value in the interpretation of a character 
so largely intellectual. Much of the play is farci- 
cal, some of it somewhat clumsily farcical, bnt 
Mr, Willard, while he was on the stage, kept it 
in the higher regions of comedy. 
Even when he bad to dip his pen into water 



M 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

and drink the ink — sl very stale and clownish 
device — ^he did it so simply and naturally that 
common sense escaped with a moderate shock. 
His worn and anxious face, his restless and im- 
pulsive gesture, his troubled eye and dreamy 
manner, the impatient sighs with which he real- 
ized that his power of concentration in his work 
was deserting him, his vague uneasiness when his 
fair young secretary was absent, and his per- 
fectly unconscious devotion to her when present, 
combined to make a picture of extraordinary 
fidelity to nature, of the choicest humor, and of 
no little pathos. The gradual awakening of the 
love-sick student to the true state of his case was 
accomplished in gradations of admirable sub- 
tlety, through the most delicate modifications of 
speech and manner, and in the masterly scene 
• — ^the best in the play — ^where the professor, after 
a brief hour of supreme happiness, being led to 
believe that the girl does not really love him, 
bravely offers her freedom, covering his own 
breaking heart with a smile, Mr. Willard rose 
to the situation with really beautiful simplicity 
and power. One such episode as this atones, by 
the generous emotions which it excites, for a 
great many stage offenses. 

In "A Eogue^s Comedy'* and **The Physi- 
cian,'' two ingenious but not valuable plays by 

453 




L 



SIXTY ^"EARS OF THE THEATER 
Henry Arthur Joues, well provided with effective 
theatriojil situatioos, Mr. Willard again demon- 
fitTAtod his faculty of impoisoaatiou aad ius ««&- 
plete efflfljamy iA ttvetf d^Murtnunt of aoeU 
melodrama, bat did noting tiuit hiqnreBsed itMif 
VB17 TiTidlr on tiie mnooiy; boi aomo ^a» altw* 
ward, in a Aetoh founded on "Kartin Clnari*- 
irit," he preeented an tsnboffinieiA of Tom HaA 
■widek may, wifhoot exaggeration, be oa^d s 
masterineoe. He really made &e eaaoeptm <tf 
Diduns live in aotion, and, indeed, may be asid 
to hare improved npon it, for he not only inveetsd 
it with all the attribntes of tender, Bimple, brsve, 
and loyal humanity, that have given it a place 
of snch high distinction in the immortal Dickens 
portrait gallery, but with the most discerning 
artistry avoided some of those occasional touches 
of comic or sentimental exaggeration which 
marred not a few of the great hmnorist's most 
vital creations. As an example of pnre, realistic, 
interpretative comedy, I should rank it among 
the highest achievements of the modern stage. 
It was not only in its physical presentment— in 
the perfection of disguise and carriage — bnt in 
soul and spirit, that the fictitious creature lived. 
And when it is remembered that the impersona- 
tor of Prof. Goodwillie and Tom Pinch first won 
fame as the ideal villain of British melodrama, 



SIXTY YEAIIS OF THE THEATER 

the wonderful development of the actor in skill 
and range will be realized, and his premature 
retirement more deeply regretted. But he 
worked, as I believe, long enough to reveal the 
best that was in him. A genuine actor, from 
top to toe, potent in passion and pathos, with a 
keen sense of character and ample executive re- 
sources for its portrayal, his emotional and im- 
aginative grasp had its limitations. These were 
defined sharply in his Hamlet, and there is no 
good reason for supposing that he could have 
triumphed in poetic tragedy. But in his own 
wide field he was one of the most accomplished 
and versatile players in his generation. 

John Hare has long enjoyed the reputation 
of being the neatest executant among the light 
and eccentric comedians of the English stage. 
He is a master of minute and suggestive, not 
fidgety, detail. And he is a first-rate comedian 
of the dry, cynical, polished type. With the ele- 
mental and robuster emotions he does not deal, 
although he can exhibit vigor or anger. He can 
be testy or urbane and gently sympathetic, but 
his pathos is somewhat thin. As a sharp-witted, 
well-bred, experienced, and tolerant man of the 
world he has had few equals and fewer superiors. 
A great actor he has not been, for he has rarely, 
if ever, played a part making any serious demand 

455 




SIXTY n:ARS OF THE THEATER 
upon tlie emotional or imaginative facnlties. His 
acting resembles a jewel valued more for the 
workmanship than the substance. His first ap- 
pearance in this country was made as that elderly 
debauchee, the Duke of St. Olpherts, in "The 
Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith." His manner was 
perfect. His ease, his deliberation, his superior- 
ity to all emotion, his epicurean enjoyment of a 
new fiensation even at his own expense, hia equa- 
nimity under provocation, and the deadly nature 
of his smiling retorts were all brilliant features 
of an exquisitely artistic and finished embodi- 
ment. It was a superb bit of artistrj' in whieh 
there was nothing to admire but the exeeotion. 

In "A Pair of Spectacles" his skill was de- 
voted to a better purpose, and exhibited fine 
qualities. Beyond question, his Benjamin Gold- 
finch, as a piece of acting, was much finer than 
that of Mr. Stoddart. At the family breakfast 
table the little, old-fashioned, white-headed figure 
seemed to radiate benevolence. It would be diffi- 
cult to conjure up a vision more suggestive of 
beaming good will. The simplicity and sponta- 
neity of it were delightful. Afterward he de- 
noted the slow growth of suspicion in a hitherto 
trustful heart with a multitude of felicitous 
strokes betokening the keenest observation and 
delicate humor. At the crisis of his transforma- 



SIXTY TEARS OF THE THEATER 

tion he exhibited a degree of heat and passion of 
which he might scarcely have been thought capa- 
ble. It was very clever acting, but in these 
places the outbursts of Stoddart had the more 
genuine ring. In *'A Quiet Rubber** his study 
of the testy old Irishman, Lord Kildare, had all 
the delicate finish of an etching, but in this case 
again the mechanism was clearly superior to the 
material. 

A similar remark would apply, with equal 
appositeness, to his Spencer Jermyn in *'The 
Hobby Horse** of Pinero, a piece in which smart- 
ness of dialogue and two or three ingenious situa- 
tions made some amends for an improbable story 
and lack of real dramatic interest. As the sport- 
ing squire, who regarded the turf as the noblest 
and most beneficent of social institutions, he pre- 
sented a most life-like picture of a dapper little 
country gentleman, not too wise, generous, hot- 
tempered, opinionated, whimsical, and affection- 
ate, with a ready tongue and a charming address. 
The part required no special dramatic ability 
except in the one scene when Jermyn learns the 
truth about his wife*s foolish but innocent esca- 
pade and its serious consequences, and apologises 
to the unlucky curate who has been the chief 
sufferer. In this Mr. Hare, assuming a complex 
mood in which anger, irony, and a sense of 

457 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

tamiliation were skilfully blended, acted vrith 
great naturalness and the nicest discernment. 

Mr. Hare laid the foundations of his great 
reputation in England by the pre-Kaphaelite fin- 
ish of his impersonations in Tom Robertson's 
comedies. One of the most admired of these 
was his Sam Gerridge in "Caste." Here he 
preferred to play the part of Eceles, closely asso- 
ciated in the minds of local playgoers with the 
racy and liquoriah humor of William Davidge 
and George Honey. It was hinted, not without 
plausibility, that Mr. Hare would act it along 
new lines, giving it an air of faded respectabil- 
ity. But he made no such mistake as that. His 
Eceles, if less boldly and broadly comic than 
those of some of his predecessors, was to the full 
as truthful, humorous, and disreputable. The faint 
suggestion of bygone better days, the occasional 
vestiges of such gentility as might become a de- 
cayed waiter, with which he endowed him, only 
served to emphasize the sodden wretchedness, 
meanness, and degradation of the man. His 
make-ap, with the pallid, bloated, jellied features, 
thin and straggling hair, limp whiskers, shaking 
lips and bands, and lean and palsied figure clad 
in a filthy shirt and threadbare suit, was perfect, 
and his acting, with its alternations of cringing 
and bullying, of pitiful whining and contemptible 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

self-assertion, its maudlin pathos, its moments of 
hiccoughing declamation, and outbreaks of impo- 
tent and hysterical anger, was wonderfully real- 
istic. The whole impersonation might have been 
a copy from life, finished with a minuteness that 
might almost have challenged examination by a 
microscope. And this flawless finish was char- 
acteristic of all the work that Mr. Hare did at 
the time of which I am writing and later. It was 
fascinating to watch the deftness, inerrancy, and 
ease of his execution. And expertness of this 
kind, of course, is proof of the high intelligence 
that lies behind it. The fact remains that Mr. 
Hare, or Sir John Hare, as he is now, has con- 
fined himself hitherto to characters destitute of 
those elements which provide the most severe 
tests for histrionic genius, and he has, there- 
fore, no legitimate claim for admission to the 
ranks of great actors. But in his own line he 
is a consummate artist. 

Among our many visitors from the English 
stage there are several who must be mentioned 
if only to prove that they have not been over- 
looked. Genevieve Ward (the Madame Guera- 
bella of long-ago opera days) is one of them. 
She achieved distinction, but not greatness. She 
approached it most nearly, perhaps, in her Lady 
Macbeth, a most impressive and capable perf orm- 

459 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 
anee, forceful, intelligent, and majestic, but !adc- 
ing, in the crises, the essential fire. She had dig- 
nity, refinement, strength, artistry, a fine voice and 
elocutionary sldll, with a special faculty for the 
incisive delivery of lines barbed with scorn or 
wit. It is by her performance of the adven- 
turess in ' ' Forget- Me-Not ' ' that she will be 
chiefly remembered. It had the grace, the supple- 
ness, the glitter, and the deadly venom of the 
serpent. But impersonations of this order have 
no real bigness. The artistic merits of Mrs. 
Langtry were infinitesimal, but she acquired, at 
the last, a certain measure of technical efficiency. 
Olga Nethersole, in her earlier days, manifested 
a natural impulsive power, which encouraged 
bright hopes for her future, which have not been 
fulfilled. In hypersentimental and morbid emo- 
tionalism there is neither charm nor utility. 

Charles Wyndham for years conferred the boon 
of innocent merriment upon multitudes by his 
vivacity, activity, and dexterity in a series of 
farcical comedies. He was a comedian of the 
Charles Mathews order. He had the volatility 
of the latter, but not his finesse or versatility. 
He had neither passion nor pathos. His per- 
formance of David Garrick, in which he was 
extremely popular, was inferior to that of E. A. 
Sothem. His Charles Surface had dash and 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

gayety, but was not comparable with that of 
Charles Coghlan. A good, serviceable come- 
dian, he owed much of his prominence to the 
fact that he was his own manager, and his dis- 
cernment in the selection of his plays and his 
supporting casts. Miss Mary Moore (Mrs. James 
Albery), a capital actress in light eccentric com- 
edy, has contributed largely to the success of 
some of his most profitable productions, and for 
a long time George Giddens was a tower of 
strength in his company. Mr. Giddens is prob- 
ably the best low comedian upon the English- 
speaking stage to-day. He is versatile, has the 
true vis comica, and is expert in all the mechan- 
ics of acting. 

In this casual review of the New York theater 
during the last quarter of the nineteenth cen- 
tury, some performers of capacity or note may 
have escaped mention, but, I think, not many. Of 
the illustrious foreigners who have played here 
in their own language — Duse, Bernhardt, Coque- 
lin, Jane Hading, Mounet-Sully, Bejane, and 
others — ^I have not spoken because they have no 
direct relation to the American stage. An excep- 
tion was made in the case of Salvini, first, on 
account of the superlative value of the example 
that he set, and, secondly, because he used an 
English-speaking support. The record, as it 

461 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 
stands, is not inspiriting, so far as the art of 
acting is concerned. It indicates a condition of 
progressive decadence. The high imaginative 
drama, tragic or romantic, has virtually disap- 
peared, not because the public will have none 
of it — for occasional revivals of it are eagerly 
attended — but for the lack of competent inter- 
preters. 

To-day there are not on the American stage 
half a dozen players, male or female, who could 
bear the test of comparison with any one of fifty 
who were flourishing thirty or forty years ago. 
Of great actors there is not one. The best we 
have, in almost every department of drama- 
musical comedy and wild farce, of course, are not 
included in that category— are survivors of a 
past generation. Stars there are in plenty, hut 
only two or three of them could by any stretch of 
courtesy be called first-rate actors. Most of them 
are specialists in the art of self-reproduction, 
and, therefore, utterly unprogressive. The name 
of the new performers is legion, but the number 
of them who exhibit signs of brilliant promise 
is woefully small. In all the arts of production — 
in painting, lighting, machinery, and spectacle, 
even in playwriting — the stage is making prog- 
ress, but the races of competent actors is threat- 
ened with extinction. 



SIXTY YEARS OP THE THEATER 

"Why this is so is no mystery. It is the 
inevitable result, long ago foreseen and foretold, 
of the prevailing system of purely commerdal 
management that has obliterated the old stock 
companies (not the modem affairs of two per- 
formances daily and a fresh play every week, 
which are a great deal worse than useless), which 
were the only practical schools of acting, abol- 
ished competition, provided endless circuits for 
worthless plays, and manufactured ** stars** at 
will by the process of advertisement. The only 
chance for a real and permanent theatrical re- 
vival, the reestablishment of the theater, that is, 
upon a dramatic, literary, and artistic founda- 
tion — ^with actors capable of interpreting either 
masterpieces or pot-boilers — ^lies in the restora- 
tion of the stock system and of honest, wholesome 
competition. That is my unshakeable conviction 
after half a century of observation and experi- 
ence. Sooner or later, I believe, this will come 
about. Signs of impending change in theatrical 
conditions — the disruption of syndicates, signifi- 
cant bankruptcies, etc. — are not wanting. From 
all sides come reports of the organization of new 
stock companies with definite programmes and 
good financial backing. 

If these experiments succeed there will be no 
lack of imitators. Then we may be upon the 

463 



SIXTY YEARS OF THE THEATER 

brink of a new era. In the host of little theaters 
— -artistic, realistic, futuristic, Independent, ex- 
perimental, or what not — I do not, I must con- 
fess, put much faith. Some of them are excellent 
things in their way, and deserve every encour- 
agement, but of all the many scores of such 
experiments with which I have been acquainted 
not one, so far, as I can remember, has lived for 
long, or left appreciable results behind. It is in 
a system of competitive stock companies, run 
on business principles, striving to win public 
patronage by deserving it, that I see the prom- 
ise of a theater that will command the favor aud 
support of all the intelligent classes. 

But I do not hold the syndicate system alone 
responsible for the low estate into which the 
theater and theatrical art have fallen in these 
latter days. A considerable share of the blame 
must rest upon a public press which, in the inter- 
ests of commercialism, has not hesitated to accept 
false standards and help the managerial game 
by lavishing unmerited and deceptive praise upon 
poor plays and indifferent performers. If the 
theater is ever to regain respect, it must be dis- 
cussed tiothfully, capably, and fearlessly. 



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